Life of St. Osith - University of Waterloo


Life of St. Osith - University of Waterloo
The Life of St Osith
A Critical Dossier, Edition and Translation
Extracted, with permission, from
Papers on Language & Literature
A Journal for Scholars and Critics of Language
and Literature
Pages 300-445
(Special Issue: Tribute to Jane Dick Zatta 19482005)
The Life of St Osith: An Introduction
Jocelyn Wogan-Browne
The Vie Seinte Osith: Hagiography
and Politics in Anglo-Norman England
Jane Dick Zatta
La Vie seinte Osith, virge e martire
Text edited by D. W. Russell;
translation by Jane Dick Zatta;
revised and annotated by Jocelyn Wogan-Browne
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The Life of St Osith: Introduction
The foundresses of Britain, as constructed by that country’s
post-Conquest inhabitants, are becoming better known than
they used to be. The most important secular story for the Angevins and Plantagenets and their successors has long been
acknowledged to be the eponymous foundation of Britain by
Brutus. Variant versions of the Brutus story are extant in verse
and prose in hundreds of manuscripts. The Brut’s position as
the framing narrative of post-Conquest Britain is well-illustrated
in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where Arthurian narrative
is re-set within the Brutus story of Britain (to which Arthurian
narratives in any case ultimately owe their own popularity). Recent scholarship, however, has begun elucidating a scandalous
female prequel to Brutus in the story of Albina, first occupant of
a country she names Albion after herself. This story first appears
in Anglo-Norman before 1330 and becomes rapidly attached as
a prelude to many of the French, Latin, and English versions of
the Brut (Johnson 1995; Marvin 2001).
Alongside intensified recognition of the post-colonial Brutus
and of Albina have come intensified perceptions of the importance of post-Conquest monastic lives and foundations. As Jane
Zatta writes,
It could be said that Anglo-Norman lives of English saints trojanized AngloSaxon Christianity by portraying the Norman succession to the government
of English religious houses as a kind of translatio ecclesiae in much the same
way as the royal historians had portrayed the Norman Conquest of England
as an ongoing project of political perfection progressing from pagan Troy to
transitional Rome to Christian Europe. Norman lives of Anglo-Saxon saints
highlight their role as the founders of English Christianity, the transition
point between the Danish pagan past and the Christian future destined to
culminate in the supercession of the Normans. (Zatta, 2003, 1)
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The figure of the Anglo-Saxon virgin princess saint is an
important template in this endeavour, used alike by monastic
houses with and without well-founded historical claims to such
patronesses. The Life of St Osith, extant in four Latin vitae and one
Anglo-Norman version, is one of the most fascinating of such
post-Conquest re-inventions of Anglo-Saxon sanctity. Uniting
seventh, ninth, and eleventh century sources, Osith is a powerfully syncretic figure, one who metamorphoses yet again in the
later Middle Ages to assimilate St Zita, a household servant saint,
whose cult is a late medieval importation from Lucca (Bethell
1970a; Sutcliffe 1993). Osith’s re-inventions most directly served
the Bishops of London at St Paul’s and the twelfth-century house
of canons regular at Chich in Essex, but traces of her cult at
Aylesbury, Bicester, and Hereford suggest her wider resonance
(Hohler 1966; Bethell 1970b; Barrow 1987; Hagerty 1987; Bailey
1989). Her birthplace at Quarrendon in Buckinghamshire is
said in the Anglo-Norman Vie seinte Osith to be marked by a bare
mound (vv. 183-94) not fruitful in this world, but an important
sign of the next. This is part of the prologue’s extended play on
giving up earth to gain territory in heaven. Since Anglo-Norman
women could inherit in the absence of sons and since AngloNorman widows with some control of their dowers were major
ecclesiastical and monastic patrons, the prologue’s claim that
not only men but women give up their land and lives to God is
well-advised (vv. 47-8). The virgin intactness so often a homologue for land rights and property in post-Conquest sources
has socio-economic resonances as well as other cultural powers:
like Christina of Markyate, Osith’s private vowing of her virginity to Christ sooner or later involves the interest of many other
people and cannot remain hidden. But, as Zatta further points
out, within the post-Conquest socio-saintly economy,
Anglo-Saxon virgin saints had a particular role because their divinely conceded
exemption from a woman’s normal social subordination provided another
precedent for justifying the rebellion of a monastic house against political
coercion. From a political point of view, these lives show that insubordina-
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tion to lawful authority when directed by God constitutes obedience rather
than rebellion and is not incompatible with respect for social hierarchy.
(Zatta 2003, 3)
The Anglo-Norman life, longer and richer than the known
Latin vitae, elaborates Osith’s struggle, lasting for over three
years, to preserve her virginity from her pagan husband, King
Sighere of the East Saxons. At its climax, he is diverted by the
sudden appearance of a compulsively huntable white stag, a motif whose occurrences in romance make it suggestive of courtly
Minnejagd. But it is equally reminiscent of the deer often found
in monastic foundation stories, where animals, guaranteed as
vehicles of the numinous by their very incapacity for reason,
frequently draw up the boundaries of land to be hallowed to
God (Wogan-Browne, 2001, 95).
King Sighere returns angry and frustrated from his unsuccessful pursuit of the stag up the East Anglian coast to Dunwich,
only to find that Osith has taken advantage of his absence to
veil herself at the altar. Sighere’s acceptance of this is relatively
rapid and complete (and well explained from the perspective
offered by Zatta’s account of these lives as the complex figuration of a rebellion against patriarchy that does not subvert social
hierarchy), and he endows Osith with lands and personnel for
her monastic foundation. This is established and staffed without trouble, until Osith is one day surprised and decapitated
by pagan Danish pirates as she bathes in a secret spring with
her maidens. Osith’s posthumous career is focused around her
power to defend her rights and property: a series of vengeance
miracles demonstrates Osith’s refusal to tolerate infractions, as
she paralyzes ships and people when crossed. The Bishop of
London himself, attempting to re-appropriate Chich from the
episcopal estate of Clacton (with its privilege of deer hunting)
is vengefully paralyzed by Osith and never walks again.
Zatta provides a new approach to the composition and structure of the Anglo-Norman life in her argument that it is not,
as thought by earlier scholars, a late twelfth-century life with a
The Life of St Osith: An Introduction
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thirteenth-century interpolation, but a single work composed as
a whole in response to the crises involving the canons of Chich
and the bishops of London in the later twelfth century. Zatta’s
1999 study (reprinted below) illuminatingly reads the paralysis
miracles in the specific context of episcopal versus monastic
struggles over Chich’s land and property rights. She also sees
a more widely representative role for Osith as a figure through
whom the legal, judicial, social and cultural aspects of lordship
are explored in the changing post-Conquest context.
One consequence of this view is that the Life of Osith cannot be simply appropriated as a pro-feminist biography of a
successful career virgin without careful and informed historical negotiation. As Zatta argues, “it is clear that the interests of
the hagiographers did not center on providing biographies of
holy women, nor even primarily on inspiring piety, but rather
on using the ideological paradigms offered by virgin saints
for local political interests” (2003, 5). Nevertheless, as Zatta
recognized in her 1999 study and further developed in her
work towards a volume of translated Anglo-Norman lives, the
Anglo-Norman poet’s setting of Osith in conflict with familial,
political, and ecclesiastical authority transforms “a stylized tale
of hagiographic renunciation into a psychologically complex
and realistic portrayal of a clever, determined and manipulative
woman” (2003, 7).
Osith’s potential as a role model for Anglo-Norman women
is emphasized by the manuscript context in which the life is
extant. This manuscript, London, BL Additional 70513, is an
important collection of Anglo-Norman saints’ lives, largely put
together in the late thirteenth century and belonging, certainly
by the early fourteenth century, to the aristocratic canonesses of
Campsey Ash, an Augustinian priory in Suffolk, some thirty miles
(as the crow flies) to the north of Chich. Here, according to an
inscription in the manuscript, it was used for mealtime reading.
La Vie sainte Osith is one of three native British abbess’ saints
lives included in the Campsey collection, which also contains all
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the three known hagiographic lives composed by women in the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries in England, together with texts
connected with Countess Isabella of Arundel (d. 1271). As virgin
patroness of the canons at Chich, Osith here joins a pantheon
of elite women, both in terms of her companion texts and the
manuscript’s users (Russell 2003; Wogan-Browne 2003).
Among other fresh emphases following from Zatta’s argument for the unified character of Osith, an emphasis on monastic
networks and transmissions emerges. The Anglo-Norman Osith
includes an opening miracle in which Osith is schooled in the
forest of Arden under the abbess Modwenna and, having fallen
into a river while carrying a book between nunneries, is resurrected without harm to herself or the book after three days under
water in a place subsequently known as Nunpool. This miracle
is very similar to one in the lives of St Modwenna of Burton
(herself a re-invention of an earlier Celtic and British figure:
Bartlett, 2002). The Anglo-Norman life of Modwenna is generally
agreed to be thirteenth century and hence a later text than the
Anglo-Norman life of Osith, so that Osith is not borrowing from
Modwenne. The loss of some of the Latin source material on Osith
known to have existed in the twelfth century makes the textual
links between the two abbess figures, Modwenna and Osith, difficult to determine.1 But there is a text of Modwenne in the same
Campsey manuscript in which the extant text of Osith is found,
so that at least one female elite audience had the opportunity of
hearing the miracle of resurrection from Nunpool as told to the
glory of two different virgin abbess figures. The question of what
they made of this story and of the many other comparisons and
contrasts available in the Campsey manuscript, as of the origins
1The Life by William de Vere, Bishop of Hereford (1186-1198), whose mother Alice
(d. c. 1163) was a corrodian at Chich in her widowhood, can be reconstructed only
through Leland’s notes (Bethell 1970a, 75-76). Osith’s treatment of the drowning
miracle in Arden is close to Geoffrey of Burton’s vita of Modwenna at some points, to
Conchubrannus’s eleventh-century vita in others and also different from both these
in still other points: see Bethell 1970a, 83-85, and n. 13 to the translation below.
The Life of St Osith: An Introduction
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and purposes of the collection itself, remain crucial questions in
the history of women and medieval literature in England. Jane
Zatta’s study of the Osith life is a paradigmatic example of the
complexity with which these questions will require answering
and of the ways in which they are questions for women’s and
for everyone’s literary histories.
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The Vie Seinte Osith:
Hagiography and Politics in
Anglo-Norman England
The Vie Seinte Osith is a little-known Anglo-Norman verse life of
an early English virgin martyr. The saint commemorated in this
life is a pseudo-historical composite made up of three AngloSaxon holy women connected to the seventh and tenth centuries.1
Little is known about the pre-Conquest history of this saint’s
cult,2 but a church dedicated to Osyth, dependent on the See of
London and served by a small community of chaplains, existed
at Chich in Essex at the time of the Conquest. The cult of St.
Osyth rose to prominence under the Norman encouragement of
Anglo-Saxon saints. In 1076, her relics were translated by Bishop
Hugh, and again in 1186 by Maurice, but the real promotion of
Osyth came under Bishop Richard Belmeis I of London, who
From Studies in Philology, Volume 96. Copyright © 1999 by the University of North
Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.
I would like to thank Roy Harris for very helpful suggestions and comments.
The women are Osgytha, granddaughter of Penda and wife of Sighere, King of Essex,
a seventh-century king mentioned by Bede; Edith, a composite figure, connected
in the Anglo-Norman life to a sister of Athelstan of the late tenth century and to St.
Monenna, foundress of Killeavy (d. 517); and Modwenna, of the mid-seventh century,
who is said to have cured Prince Alfred of a sore disease. For the relationship of Osyth,
Edith, and Modwenna, see Christopher Hohler, “St. Osyth and Aylesbury,” Records of
Buckinghamshire 18 (1966): 61-72; and A. I Baker, “An Anglo-French Life of St. Osith,”
Modern Language Review 6 (1911): 476-502 and 7 (1912): 74-93, 157-92.
The Ramsey Abbey chronicler records that in 1144, Bishop Aelfward was struck
with leprosy for having committed the sacrilege of robbing Osyth’s tomb. See Denis
Bethell, “Richard of Belmeis and the Foundation of St. Osyth’s,” Transactions of the
Essex Archaeological Society 2 (1970): 301.
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founded a house of black canons there whom he endowed with
the manor of Chich and other churches. The canons who settled
at Chich came from the house of the Holy Trinity Aldgate in
London, which had been founded about 1107 by Queen Matilda
on the advice of St. Anselm.3 The house, richly gifted by Bishop
Richard, an intimate of Henry I, as well as by the king himself
and the Archbishop of Canterbury, early achieved a reputation
as a center of learning in the social and intellectual milieu of
the Anglo-Norman royalty. William of Malmesbury mentions its
reputation for letters in his Gesta Pontificum: “There were and
there are there clerks distinguished in letters, so that it may be
said that the countryside blossoms with their happy example.”4
At least four lives of Osyth were composed in the twelfth century.
One of these, now lost, was written by William de Vere, who
grew up in the court of Henry I and his second wife, Adelaide
of Louvain, and who was the patron of Walter Map, Gerald of
Wales, and Robert Grosseteste.5 In the reign of Henry II, John
See Bethell, “Richard of Belmeis,” for an account of the early history of St. Osyth’s.
From the Gesta Pontificum, cited by Bethell, “Richard of Belmeis,” 306.
Both the textual and cultic tradition of this saint are complex. The extant medieval
lives are the following: 1. MS. Bodley 285, a Latin life surviving in a manuscript of the
mid- to late twelfth century, probably from Ramsey Abbey, written certainly after 1107
and probably after 1127. 2. MS. Landsdowne 436, a Latin life surviving in a fourteenthcentury manuscript from the nunnery at Romsey in Hampshire; Bethell considers this
an abbreviation of Bodley 285, as does A. I Baker, but Morgan J. Desmond believes
Landsdowne to be the earlier. 3. The Anglo-Norman life, surviving in a single manuscript,
Welbeck Abbey MS. I C. 1, which in the fourteenth century belonged to the nunnery
at Campsey in Suffolk, where it was used for readings at mealtimes. 4. A life embedded
in a series of lessons for St. Osyth’s feast day, Oct. 7, surviving in a fourteenth-century
compilation of saints’ lives made at Bury St. Edmund’s abbey in Suffolk, now MS. Bodley
240. 5. A series of notes composed by the sixteenth-century antiquarian John Leland,
taken from a lost life composed by William de Vere in the late twelfth century.
For one reconstruction of the relationships among the lives, see Denis Bethell, “The
Lives of St. Osyth of Essex and St. Osyth of Aylesbury,” Analecta Bollandiana 88 (1970):
75-127. For a discussion of the relationship between the Aylesbury and Essex traditions,
see Hohler, “St. Osyth and Aylesbury”; and R. P. Hagerty, “The Buckinghamshire Saints
Reconsidered, 2: St. Osyth and St. Edith of Aylesbury,” Records of Buckinghamshire 29
(1987): 125-32.
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of Salisbury was an ardent advocate of the house, defending its
rights against the attempts to expropriate certain of its churches
by Richard II of Belmeis, Bishop of London (1152-62). The
prominence of the cult of St. Osyth at the heart of the intellectual circles close to the Norman and Angevin kings makes her
Anglo-Norman life, by far the longest and most complete of the
extant lives, especially important to a study of the development
of vernacular literature in the twelfth century.
On both the secular and the ecclesiastical level, Anglo-Norman England was marked by a struggle between an institutional
hierarchy and a subject population that was struggling for
independence and self-determination, a struggle inscribed in
secular and ecclesiastical writings alike. Political and ecclesiastical interests expressed through well-recognized genres such as
history, law, and hagiography created expectations that could
be manipulated by authors, sometimes transgressively. In the
context of a complex network of colliding interests, authors with
different institutional allegiances and social purposes exploited
genre conventions to present their audiences with different
constructions of the role institutional authority played in the
realization of individuals’ goals.6 Official histories written for Norman and Angevin monarchs in the first two generations after the
Conquest promote the belief that submission and obedience to
an idealized monarch result in a transfer of his qualities—noble
origins, natural superiority, and divinely favored success—from
the ruler to the subject almost in the same way that hereditary
traits are passed from father to son.7 They offer obedient subjects
In some cases institutional authority is portrayed as enabling that fulfillment; in
others it is an obstacle that the individual must overcome.
See, for example, Henry of Huntingdon in the prologue to the Historia Anglorum:
“And we pray you, Bishop Alexander, father of the fatherland, prince second to the
king, that anything we have written well may be brightened by your praise, and that
you will better what is less good.” Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum (History of the English People), ed. and trans. Diana Greenway (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1996), 7.
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a subsumed participation in the national authority from which
they would otherwise be excluded.8 Likewise, from the twelfth
century, but especially from the thirteenth, competition with
an increasingly hegemonic and centralized monarchy led the
church to encourage the reorientation of devotional practices
away from the direct and personal spirituality advocated by an
Anselm or a Bernard, and towards a piety contained within
the liturgy. The religious didactic literature that promotes a
sacramental program of salvation, in which the church plays an
indispensable role in mediating the relationship between God
and individual, views the relationship between institution and
individual in much the same way as the official histories: these
works teach patience and obedient submission to the institutional
church, of which the submission and obedience the individual
owes to secular authority is an analogue.9
At the same time, emerging classes sought literary forms
that would legitimize their own aspirations. The Anglo-Norman
Thus William of Malmesbury writes in his dedication to Robert, Earl of Gloucester:
The virtue of celebrated men holds forth as its greatest excellence, its tendency to excite the love of persons even far removed from it: hence the lower
classes make the virtues of their superiors their own, by venerating those
great actions, to the practice of which they cannot themselves aspire.
William of Malmesbury’s Chronicle of the Kings of England, ed. and trans. J. A. Giles
(London, 1847), 1.
A characteristic example is Robert Grosseteste’s Chasteau d’Amour, a sermon in
the post-Lateran IV tradition of educational programs promoting essential church
doctrine, which shows the advantages of the sacramental program of salvation by an
extended comparison between the characteristics of feudal allegiance and those of
Christian obedience. And in the Myrour of Lewed Men, a fourteenth-century translation of Grosseteste’s Chasteau d’Amour adapted as part of the same program of basic
doctrinal instruction, the Monk of Sawley explains the fifth commandment by telling
his reader that just as he owes “buxumnes and hounour” to his father and mother,
so too does he to his spiritual mother, Holy Church, and to his lord and king: “And
who so is thi warldly lord or thy kyng / Is taken for thi fadir in this byddyng” (ll. 10506). Cited from Kari Sajavaara, ed., The Middle English Translations of Robert Grosseteste’s
“Chateau D’Amour” (Helsinki: Societe Neophilologique, 1967), 36.
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Brut translations of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s famous chronicle,
in vogue during the twelfth century, translate down the social
scale the authorizing value of the Latin histories, but in adapting
Geoffrey’s grandiose and imperializing vision of British destiny
to promote the interests of the lesser nobility, they shift the
emphasis from the obedience owed by subjects to the gratitude
owed by rulers.10 Romances of English heroes, which began to
appear towards the end of the twelfth century, appropriate the
authorizing strategies of the histories, but they do so to subvert,
not to legitimize, the absolute power of monarchy. As Susan
Crane has shown, the romances of English heroes reflect the
aspirations of the tenurial class for a social order in which access to land and power is based on justice, law, and merit rather
than rank.11 They challenge the devaluation of the individual
that characterizes the court histories and promote an ideal of
personal merit as the quality on which the legitimacy of lordship
depends. A genre that is potentially remarkably similar to romance in its hostility to institutional authority and in the radical
claims it makes for the legitimacy of individual actions—even
when these threaten the hierarchical ordering of society—is the
virgin martyr story.12 It is not hard to see in these stories, which
pit a spotless virgin against a comic-book tyrant, the subtext of
an ecclesiastical polemic against secular government. But stories
in which an obtuse, brutal, and ignorant secular ruler is successfully challenged by a young girl question not only the authority
See Jane Zatta, “Translating the Historia: The Ideological Transformation of the
Historia regum Britannie in Twelfth-Century Vernacular Chronicles,” Arthuriana 8.4
(1998): 148-61.
See Susan Crane, Insular Romance: Politics, Faith, and Culture in Anglo-Norman and
Middle English Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).
See Georges Duby, The Knight, The Lady, and the Priest: The Making of Modern Marriage
in Medieval France, trans. Barbara Bray (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993),
for his discussion of the role of literature in presenting the same models, and for his
view that marriage is the perfect image of the hierarchical organization that allows
both religious and political control of the individual.
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of the secular ruler; potentially, they question all hierarchical
social ordering, even that of the church.13 The Vie Seinte Osith
is a particularly striking example of a saint’s life that employs
the authorizing conventions of the virgin martyr story to offer a
strong criticism of the abuse of power by the episcopal hierarchy
and give voice to the aspirations of the ecclesiastical menus gents
for self-determination and autonomy.14
English religious houses faced a variety of threats to their lands
and wealth after the Norman Conquest: despoliation of church
treasures by the Conqueror, the imposition of punitive gelds
and taxes, the requirement of knight service, and lay magnates’
seizure of the estates belonging to churches if they were strong
enough to do so. An additional danger to the wealth and independence of monasteries came from episcopal encroachments,
since bishops could significantly augment their own finances by
annexing a wealthy monastic house. The establishment of an
Thomas Heffernan notes the potentially provocative nature of the virgin martyr
lives’ exaltation of a young girl who successfully defies the authority structures of
the secular state; he concludes that “the liturgical context supplied by the church
makes it easier to see how these lives might also allow women and men to indulge in
a type of ritualized emancipation from their rigidly appointed roles, free from the
personal stigma of sin and guilt” (Sacred Biography: Saints and Their Biographers in the
Middle Ages [New York: Oxford University Press, 1988], 299).
The little critical attention given to this poem has focused on its relationship to romance. M. D. Legge first called attention to the resemblance of the hoaxed husband
episode to that in Cliges (Anglo-Norman Literature and its Background [Oxford: Clarendon,
1963; reprint, 1971], 259-61). D. W. Russell (“The Secularization of Hagiography in
the Anglo-Norman Vie Ste. Osith,” Allegorica 12 [1991]: 3-16) has also discussed the
“romance” features of the poem, a fact which he treats as symptomatic of the desire
on the part of hagiographers to imitate romance in order to attract an audience:
“Modern readers have historically been more attracted to the secular genres such
as the epic or the romance. And indeed, the mediaeval writers of hagiography also
seemed to feel that their audiences were more drawn to the secular genres than to
hagiography” (3). For a different view, see Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, who argues that
the romance features of Osith serve to unmask the strategies of containment of female volition which inscribe the values of family and inheritance (“‘Clerc u lai, muine
u dame’: Women and Anglo-Norman Hagiography in the Twelfth and Thirteenth
Centuries,” in Women and Literature in Britain, 1150-1500, 2nd ed., ed. Carol M. Meale
[Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], 61-85).
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episcopal see in an abbey threatened not only the wealth of the
community, which had to be divided to provide for the bishop and
his familia, but also the independence and the status of its head,
and it is not surprising that communities so threatened resisted
vigorously.15 Tension between religious houses and bishops is a
dominant theme in post-Conquest ecclesiastical histories. By the
early twelfth century, the number of monastic cathedrals had
more than doubled, increasing from the pre-Conquest number
of four to nine out of a total of seventeen.16 It is important to
realize that the struggle for the survival of the English churches
cannot be reduced to a Norman-English conflict or even to a
church-state conflict. Norman abbots energetically fought off
the encroachments from Norman lay and ecclesiastical lords
alike on the wealth and patrimony of the houses on which the
abbots’ own fates depended.17
The first line of defense for an abbey whose wealth and independence were threatened by lay magnates or by episcopal
usurpation lay in the production—often the forgery—of docuLanfranc’s account of the complaints against Peter, Bishop of Lichfield, for his attempts to remove the See of Chester to Coventry details what the community endured
at Peter’s hands. He forced entry into their dormitory, broke into their strongboxes,
robbed them of their horses and goods, pulled down their houses to have the building materials taken to his own residences, and remained in the monastery with his
retinue for eight days, consuming all the monks’ provisions. See Ann Williams, The
English and the Norman Conquest (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1995), 136.
Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest, 136.
Thus when Theodwine, a monk of Jumieges, succeeded to Ely in 1072, he refused to
take up his office until the king had restored the treasures which had previously been
seized (Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest, 140). See also Susan Ridyard
(“Condigna Veneratio: Post-Conquest Attitudes to the Saints of the Anglo-Saxons,”
Anglo-Norman Studies 9 [1987]: 180-206) for the role of the Norman adaptation of
the life of St. Ethelthreda, inserted into the Liber Eliensis, in preserving the rights of
Ely: “The Norman abbots, it seems, regarded themselves primarily as abbots of Ely,
only secondarily as Norman conquerors. Their reputations depended upon their
effectiveness in defending and enhancing the position of the church committed to
their care, and in pursuit of that priority they were prepared to utilise any tool which
came to hand” (184).
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ments, especially royal charters, attesting to the ancient privileges
and exemptions the house enjoyed. In seeking the king’s protection on the basis of supposedly Anglo-Saxon royal charters, the
Norman abbots were exploiting the Norman myth of continuity
with the English past.18 In addition to forged charters, religious
houses promoted their political interests by seeking to increase
the prestige of the abbey’s founding saint through elaborately
staged ceremonies celebrating the translations of his or her relics and the production of written lives. Religious biographies
of Anglo-Saxon saints not only continued, but increased under
Norman rule.19 Saints’ lives of English founding saints written
to vindicate the independence of the houses on which their
cults centered stressed the antiquity of the cults, the personal
nature of the associations between the religious houses and the
founding saints, and their establishment by royal or sometimes
papal dispensation.
From the time of William, all Norman rulers claimed to uphold the laws of Edward
the Confessor (Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest, 155-58). Thus the abbot
of Battle appealed to Henry II to enforce the supposed indemnities and exemptions
of Battle Abbey against the pretenses of Hilary, Bishop of Chichester, by presenting
forged royal charters in the king’s court. See Marjorie Chibnall, Anglo-Norman England:
1066-1166 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986; reprint, 1995), 203.
For example, Osbert of Clare, Prior at Westminster under the abbacy of Gervase
of Blois, helped to defend the independence of Westminster Abbey from the See of
London by forging charters supposedly issued by the chancery of Edward I and by
composing a Vita Beati Eadwardi, which prominently featured a legend that Westminster
had first been consecrated by St. Peter himself in the days when Mellitis was Bishop
of London. See Kathryn Young Wallace’s introduction to Matthew Paris, La Estoire de
Seint Aedward le Rei, ed. Kathryn Young Wallace (London: Anglo-Norman Text Society,
1983), x-xii. In the same way, the independence of Bury St. Edmund from the grasp
of the Bishop of Lincoln was also defended by updating the saint’s legend, including
the production of a collection of miracula, commissioned by Abbot Baldwin, that
showed the saint’s punitive assaults on a variety of invaders and pretenders, including
Bishop Arfast. The church at Ely also attempted to defend its lands from Norman
depredations by promoting the cult of its patron saint, Etheldreda, who appeared
as a vindicator of the property rights of the monks of Ely by punishing with death
the agent of a Norman sheriff who had attempted to expropriate their lands; and,
in the hands of a later historian, as the defender of the monks against Bishop Nigel
(1131-69) and his associates (Ridyard, “Condigna Veneratio,” 183-85).
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The Vie Seinte Osith, an Anglo-Norman re-writing of a Latin
original, is one of these lives. Osyth was the patron saint of the
house of Augustinian canons at Chich in Essex, and the life
was written most probably in response to a series of crises in
the mid-twelfth century when several of the churches belonging to St. Osyth’s came under attack by the See of London. In
the late eleventh century, Bishop Maurice of London split up
the property of the small college of priests at St. Osyth’s into
prebends, constituting for each “the necessities of life, 60 acres
of land, as well as tithes and altar offerings.”20 His successor,
Richard I, who was Bishop of London from 1109 to 1127, seized
the lands at Chich for inclusion in his hunting park at Clactonon-Sea, but he repented after suffering a stroke in 1118 or 1119
and founded a house of canons regular at St. Osyth’s in 1121.
According to notes taken by the sixteenth-century antiquarian
John Leland from a now-lost late twelfth-century life of St. Osyth,
Richard gave St. Osyth’s the vill of Chich, twenty pounds a year
from the farm at Clacton, the churches of Southminster and
Althore, the churches of Clacton (St. James and St. Nicholas),
and the churches of Pelham, Aldbury, and “the other Pelham”
(i.e., Pelham Furneaux and Brent Pelham).21 But in the years
between 1141 and 1151, Bishop Robert of London made a grant
of the churches of Southminster, Aldbury, and both Pelhams
to the treasureship of St. Paul’s. In the years between 1154 and
1159, Bishop Richard II attempted to confirm the grant and
distressed Abel, prior of St. Osyth’s, for the disputed churches
(all of which in Domesday were on the demesne lands of the
bishop of London). John of Salisbury intervened in the dispute
and wrote to Pope Adrian IV on behalf of the canons of St.
Osyth’s. The matter seems to have been resolved under Bishop
Gilbert Foliot of London (1163-67) in a lost settlement by which
Bethell, “Richard of Belmeis,” 301-02.
See Bethell, “Richard of Belmeis,” 304. For a reconstruction of the William de Vere
life of St. Osyth, see Bethell, “The Lives of St. Osyth.”
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St. Osyth’s got the churches of Clacton, Mayland, Southminster,
and Althorne while St. Paul’s retained the churches of the two
Pelhams and Aldbury.22 Since the date of composition of the Vie
Seinte Osith is probably the mid- to late twelfth century, it seems
highly likely that this dispute provided the impetus for a new
redaction of the life of the patron saint.23
Most scholars believe that the earliest extant life of Osyth is
the Latin vita found in MS. Bodley 285, written probably shortly
after 1127.24 This life begins by the genealogy of the virtuous
pagan king Penda, who, although a pagan himself, allowed his
family members to receive Christianity, thus connecting Osyth
with the origins of English Christianity. Next come Osyth’s marriage to Siher, king of the East Saxons, her avoidance of sexual
relations, and her decision, made while her husband is absent
pursuing a mysterious white deer, to receive the veil from the
priests Ecca and Bedewin, a decision to which they gladly assent. On his return, her husband, though saddened, quickly
accepts her decision and endows her with his vill of Chich for a
monastery. After her martyrdom by pirates who try to convince
her to renounce her faith, and the story of Osyth carrying her
head into the church which had been dedicated to the apostles
Peter and Paul, the life records several historical events: the
translation of her relics by Bishop Maurice and the founding
of the monastery by Bishop Richard, several miracles that took
place near her tomb, and one conventional miracle regarding
the saint’s revenge for the theft of a small piece of marble. The
gist of this life, written not long after the founding of the house
by Bishop Richard, is to stress the role of the See of London in
the promotion and protection of the cult of Osyth, a symbol of
See Bethell, “Richard of Belmeis,” 299-304.
It is interesting that a canon of St. Osyth’s and prior of St. Bartholomew’s, Smithfield
London (1144-74), was described as having “the power of readily uttering metrically
whatsoever he attempted” (Bethell, “Richard of Belmeis,” 306-07).
See note 5 above.
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the venerability of English Christianity, whose continuators the
Normans claimed to be.
The Anglo-Norman Vie Seinte Osith survives in a single
manuscript of the thirteenth century, Welbeck Abbey MS. I C.
I. It was edited in 1911-12 by A. T. Baker, who theorized, on
both linguistic and historical grounds, that the poem was a
composite work by three different authors. Baker considered
the Modwenna episode to be an interpolation dating from the
mid-thirteenth century and the Bishop Richard episode to be a
late twelfth-century or early thirteenth-century addition to the
original poem, which, in Baker’s view, consisted of the story of
Osyth’s marriage, martyrdom, and two miracles, and which he
dated to the second half of the twelfth century.25 M. Dominica
Legge, Morgan J. Desmond, D. W. Russell, and Jocelyn WoganBrowne have accepted Baker’s hypothesis without further consideration. Although a detailed examination of the linguistic
arguments is not possible here, I suggest that Baker’s theory of
a composite work should be revised. It is evident from his own
introduction that he was disturbed by the difference between the
Anglo-Norman text and the earliest Latin text found in Bodley
285 and particularly by the Anglo-Norman conflation of several
different hagiographic traditions in the Modwenna episode.
Baker’s theory of an original poem, roughly similar to that of the
Bodley text, that was corrupted by later additions does remove
these difficulties. However, his linguistic analysis is dated. Much
new work on the Anglo-Norman dialect has been done since
Baker’s edition, including the completion of the Anglo-Norman
Dictionary, and newer work on the use of linguistic criteria for
the dating of Anglo-Norman works has invalidated some of the
criteria that Baker used.26 In addition, Baker’s assumption that
See Baker, “An Anglo-French Life of St. Osith.” All quotations from the Vie Seinte
Osith will be taken from this edition. Translations are my own.
See Peter Damian Grint, “Redating the Royal Brut Fragment,” Medium Aevum 65
(1996): 280-85. Among the criteria used by Baker to posit a thirteenth-century date
for the Modwenna episode and which Grint argues are well attested in the twelfth
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the Bishop Richard section must have been added after circa
1200 derives from his misidentification of the Bishop Richard
in question, whom Baker took to be Richard FitzNeal (d. 1198).
More recent work by Denis Bethell has shown conclusively that
the bishop in question was Richard I Belmeis, intimate of Henry
I, who died in 1127. Moreover, at least part of Baker’s reason for
considering the Modwenna episode to be an addition dating
from the mid-thirteenth century derives from a misidentification
of the “Albericus Verus” mentioned in Leland’s notes, whom
Baker took to be a canon at Chich in 1250 and whom Denis
Bethell has identified as William de Vere.27 Since the “objective”
criteria that Baker claimed cannot stand, there is no reason not
to conclude that the poem is the work of a single poet working
in the second half of the twelfth century.
The changes made in the Anglo-Norman life are numerous,
radical, and striking, and they clearly indicate the Latin vita’s
adaptation to a new purpose: to stress the independence of
the house and its lands from the authority of the See of London. The poet achieves this aim by transforming the life into a
comprehensive and complex examination of lordship. The Vie
Seinte Osith portrays the relationship between Christian, saint,
and God on the analogy of an ideal of lordship that makes the
century are rhyming between ai and ie, rhyming between é and ie, and the breakdown
of the declensional system. Much of Baker’s linguistic data for the dating of what he
considers to be the three different divisions of the poem (and which provides the
rationale for his extensive emendations) derives from his theory of the prosody of
octosyllabic verse. In Baker’s opinion, which he verifies in a circular and self-fulfilling
fashion, early Anglo-Norman saints’ lives observed the caesura strictly. Therefore
Baker dates different sections of the poem on the basis of the presence or absence
of the caesura (and emends lines that fail to fit this criterion).
See Baker, “An Anglo-French Life,” 6: 478, and Bethell, “The Lives of St Osyth,”
75-77. Bethell thinks that de Vere’s life is the source of the Anglo-Norman life, but
this is in part because he accepts Baker’s dating of the poem. Leland’s notes do not
contain the Modwenna episode nor the miracle of the crippled woman. They do
contain a detailed account of the expropriation of the lands at Chich by Richard I
as well as the miracle of the German sailors whose ship was prevented from moving
until one of them returned a small piece of marble.
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free consent of the contracting parties the essential validating
factor, and which also makes the rights of lord and vassal equal.28
The poem offers a complex and comprehensive analysis of the
rights, obligations, and limits of lordship by examining the
relationship between Osyth (who is both an individual and an
institutional representative) and God, between Osyth and her
feudal superiors (including her father, husband, and king), between Osyth and the religious hierarchy, and between the saint
and her Christian petitioners. From this scheme, which arrays
Osyth against every important social, political, and religious
institution of the time, emerges a strong affirmation of the
principle of the individual’s rights to self-determination, to just
compensation for services faithfully tendered, and to freedom
of person and property from abuse of power. This poem posits
a theory of political, social, and religious institutions organized
not according to a concept of hierocratic domination, but according to a principle of rights.29
The first change the poet makes to the structure of the poem
is the insertion of the Modwenna episode borrowed from one
of the versions of that saint’s life, which he alters to inscribe a
different relationship between individual, the individual’s property, the institutional church, and God. In the Vie Seinte Osith,
the Modwenna episode emphasizes God’s protection not only
of the virtuous individual, but also of his or her property, and
makes that protection the result of the individual’s own merit
As R. W. Southern points out, “It was a characteristic of the higher forms of law,
that those who submitted to them must do so by their own choice. There must be a
personal act, an oath, a profession, a contract embodied in a public ceremony, renewed by each person in each generation, not descending in the blood like serfdom
from some ancestral act” (The Making of the Middle Ages [New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1953], 109).
P. R. Hyams has convincingly argued that although many jurists deny the existence
of rights before there was a common law to enforce them, the concept did exist, and
warranty language is one way of studying the concept of tenants’ rights (“Warranty
and Good Lordship in Twelfth-Century England,” Law and History Review 439-503).
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unmediated by the church.30 Like St. Osyth, St. Modwenna is a
composite made from different traditions. The earliest known
life of St. Modwenna, written in the early eleventh century by an
Irishman named Conchubranus, conflated Monnina, founder
of Killeavy (d. 517), and the English Modwenna, founder of
many churches in England and Scotland in the late seventh
century.31 In the twelfth century Geoffrey of Burton rewrote
Conchubranus, and the tale received vernacular treatment in
an Anglo-Norman life based on Geoffrey and dated by its editor,
Alexander Bell, at about 1230.32
The basics of the story are the same in all three versions of
the life of Modwenna and in the Modwenna episode of the Vie
Seinte Osith. Osyth, sent by Edith to take a book to Modwenna,
falls in a river and drowns along the way. After three or four days
have passed and Osyth has not returned, Edith sets out to find
her and encounters Modwenna. Feeling certain that Osyth has
fallen into the water, Modwenna prays for her safe return, and
on the completion of the prayer, Osyth issues safe and sound
from the water. The similarity between the name of Modwenna’s
maid, Osid, and that of Osyth, together with the similarity of
the name of Penda’s daughter Edburga, Osyth’s aunt, with that
of St. Edith of Polesworth, who is connected to St. Modwenna,
inspired the linking of the drowning episode to the life of Osyth.
In the Anglo-Norman poem, Fredewald [N.B.: This name was
given incorrectly as Siher when this essay first appeared. Ed.]
entrusts Osyth to his sister and to St. Modwenna in order for
her to receive a Christian education.
That saint Osyth was especially connected to the question of property rights can
be seen by the fact that later in the Middle Ages, she was seen as the patron saint of
lost property. See John Frankis, “St. Zita, St. Sythe, and Osyth,” Nottingham Medieval
Studies 36 (1992): 148.
See A. T. Baker and Alexander Bell, eds., St. Modwenna (Oxford: Basil Blackwell,
1947; reprint, New York: Johnson Reprint, 1967), xxiii.
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In all three versions of this episode from the lives of Modwenna, the emphasis is on Modwenna’s humility and her faith
in the intervention of an ecclesiastical hierarchy, represented
by the saints. In Conchubranus, Modwenna utters her prayer in
the name of Mary, of the apostles Peter, Paul, and Andrew, and
of the whole communion of saints. Geoffrey adds an appeal to
the Holy Trinity as well. In both of these, Modwenna’s humble
appeal to the saints is rewarded with the resurrection of Osyth.
All versions mediate access to God through the saints, and the
Anglo-Norman life inserts an extra link in the hierarchical chain
by emphasizing the role of Edith’s humility and acquiescence
to her ecclesiastical superior, Modwenna, in the miraculous restoration of Osyth.33 In his comment on the significance of the
episode, the poet tells us that Edith’s obedience not just to God
and the saints, but also to her immediate superior Modwenna,
is responsible for the miracle:
En la vertu ad mult uvré
La fei Edith e l’umbleté
Ensemblement od la bunté
De ceste dame dunt ai parlé
En sa bunte rien ne se fie—
Pur ceo est de melz oie—
Mais a la dame requert aie,
Ki l’aveit en sa baillie. (2729-36)
[In this miracle the faith and humility of Edith, together with the goodness
of this woman of whom I have spoken, worked strongly. She did not trust in
her own goodness at all—and because of that she was better heard—but she
asked for help from her mistress, who had governance over her.]
In the Modwenna lives, Osyth’s book plays no role other
than offering the excuse for the journey that furnishes the occasion for Osyth’s accidental drowning. In Conchubranus, no
particular reason is given for Osyth’s fall, while in Geoffrey, it
is caused by Osyth’s fear of the swirling waters. In the Anglo“Dame,” fait ele, “la vostre [aie], / Ke la pucele ne seit perie” ( 2643-44).
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Norman life, the violent wind causes her to fall, but the value of
the book motivates every event in the plot. Its particular value is
the reason Edith wishes to share it with Modwenna and also the
reason she chooses Osyth for the journey: “[Edith] did not want
to entrust it to a careless person who might easily damage it”
(239-40). In fact, the special emphasis given to the value of the
book causes the poet to feel obliged to specify that no amount
of money would have caused Edith to send Osyth on such a
mission if she had had any idea what would happen to her. In
the greatly amplified and highly realistic account of Osyth’s fall
given in the Vie Seinte Osith, Osyth is so upset by the accidental
loss of the book that she loses her own life in an attempt to recover it. Just as she reaches the middle of the bridge, a gust of
wind blows up the skirts of her cloak:
Et par lens gerrons a sei (le) prist
Son mantel ke le livre obli,
Ke de ses meins en l’ewe chai;
De cele perte fu esbai,
Al prendre s’abessa si le suivi;
(Bien) cuida son livre aver receu,
Mes amdeuz l’ewe had reteneu. (282-88)
[She pulled the skirts of her cloak around her, and in doing so, she forgot
about her book, which fell out of her hands into the water. She was dismayed
by that loss; she bent down to get it and followed it into the water. She thought
she could rescue her book, but the water took them both.]
The book, which suffers the same fate as Osyth, serves as a metonym for Osyth herself, a highly prized object of great value
that is lost and restored thanks to God’s grace.
Here, in contrast to the Modwenna lives in which Osyth plays
no role herself in bringing about the miracle but depends for
her salvation on Modwenna’s prayer and saintly intercession,
the restoration of Osyth as well as the book result from Osyth’s
purity, of which her miraculous salvation is a sign:
A peine out Modwen sa voiz fini
Ke do l’ewe Osith ne issi
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Neste e secke son livre aussi,
Et dist: “dame veez mo ci.”
Si cum del tut fu virgine pure,
Son livre e li sunt sanz muilliure. (351-56)
[Modwenna had barely finished her prayer when Osyth emerged from the
water clean and dry, and her book also, and said, “Madame, see me here.”
Since she was in every way a pure virgin, she and her book were without any
The changes the Vie Seinte Osith poet made from the account
of Osith’s drowning in the Modwenna lives both legitimize the
individual’s concern with property, treated as an extension of
the self, and emphasize the independence of Osyth from her
institutional superiors for the protection of her life and property. This protection comes instead from a direct relationship
with God. Unlike the Modwenna lives, the Vie Seinte Osith shows
divine aid to be a sign of God’s grace bestowed on the deserving
individual, unmediated by saintly intercession or institutional
The importance and dignity given to property in this poem
reflect the church’s increasing interest in secular matters in the
twelfth century, as competition with the monarchy led theologians to modify somewhat the traditional view of secular life and
worldly possessions as vanitas.34 From the twelfth century, God
became an interested party in such legal affairs as guaranteeing
charters, protecting property rights, and punishing extortion.
Deathbed confessions show that lords not only recognized in
principle the rights of tenants and the limits of lordship, but also
saw God in the role of justiciar in the redress of these wrongs.
The clergy always had a very close integration with secular power in Norman England. Bishops were among the barons, the tenants-in-chief of the king. The Normans
preferred to use clerics in the royal administration because they could attain rank,
wealth, and deference through the church at no cost to the king. According to Jean
Scammell, “The clergy largely monopolized the royal financial administration and
Chancery until the sixteenth century” (“The Formation of the English Social Structure:
Freedom, Knights, and Gentry, 1066-1300,” Speculum 68 [1993]: 610).
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As a result of God’s concern in matters of worldly justice, God’s
forgiveness required, in addition to confession to him, confession and restitution to the offended parties.35 Charter language
frequently invokes spiritual penalties against any parties who
should violate their provisions.36 Andrew of St. Victor, Abbot of
Wigmore, compares God’s right to claim possession of persons
from sin and death to the rights of property owners to protect
their belongings from theft:
When our belongings have been taken from us by theft, or lost in any way,
and we find them in the possession of others, we vindicate them as our own,
and so to speak, put in our claim. But if those against whom we claim have
bought or in some other way received the goods from others, these latter
must stand for the possessors and warrant what they sold or granted. Lord,
vindicate and reclaim me, your servant, whom sickness and death have almost
abducted, guard and protect me as your own possession.37
A charter from St. Paul’s records the deathbed confession of Richard I Belmeis of
London (d. 1127), who returned certain lands that he had unjustly taken from the
canons of St. Paul’s:
Lest, impenitent, of robbing the brethren and the mother church, I should
rouse His not unjust anger against me, in His sight, with you my sons and
brothers, canons of our beloved patron Paul the apostle, bearing witness, I
return the wood of Eadulf’s Naze (Walton-le-Soken, Essex) which I enclosed
in my park at Clacton . . . and if I did anything which I ought not to have
done, I confess myself penitent. I return it, I say, and curse whosoever by
force or wicked violence attempts again to take it away. (qtd. in Bethell,
“Richard of Belmeis,” 309)
See also the confession of Maurice, Bishop of London (d. 1107), who confessed
to the canons of St. Paul’s for having violated their rights and felt that confession
must be made to them and their rights restored: “I therefore beg you to forgive me
the things I have unjustly committed, on condition that henceforward you shall
have, as you used to possess them, the customs of your church, and statutes, and
elections, and powers in giving prebends and allotting manors, just as you did on the
day on which I was placed on the bishop’s throne” (as quoted in Bethell, “Richard
of Belmeis,” 302). See also John Hudson, Land, Law, and Lordship in Anglo-Norman
England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 62, for the confession of William d’Aubigny
in similar circumstances.
See Hudson, Land, Law, and Lordship, 162-63.
As quoted in Hyams, “Warranty and Good Lordship,” 444.
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The changes the poet makes in the Latin narrative of
Osyth’s marriage and martyrdom show that higher morality
sometimes requires resistance to legitimate social and religious
hierarchies. In most virgin martyr stories, the anti-authoritarian
undertones are subdued by making the civil authority a pagan
tyrant instead of a Christian king, by transferring the story to a
time and place remote from current reality, and by making the
moral intransigence of the saint incompatible not only with life
in the world, but with life itself. It is all the more striking, then,
that Osyth’s defense of her virginity does not feature a Christianpagan conflict, nor does it involve an ideological confrontation
between secular, aristocratic values of land, lineage, and wealth
(á la Alexis or Giles) and religious values of celibacy and asceticism. Instead, the Vie Seinte Osith rescripts the virgin martyr story
as a contemporary tale of domestic conflict between a husband
and his strong-minded wife. In so doing, it shifts the ideological
focus away from a conflict between religious and secular values
in order to examine the aspiration of the individual, represented
here by a young girl, to the right to economic and social selfdetermination in opposition to the social authorities of father,
husband, church, and king.
The poem presents Osyth’s religious vocation as a power
struggle from which Osyth emerges as the victor despite the fact
that she stands alone against every social, familial, political, and
religious authority. But instead of a saint who confronts an obvious tyrant in a temporally and geographically remote setting, this
poem presents a recognizably contemporary situation in which
the opponents to the saint’s virginity are behaving according to
custom and law. Osyth’s father, like any responsible aristocrat,
consults his barons and arranges a suitable marriage for his
daughter in accordance with their advice. Unaware of her vow of
virginity, he brushes aside her objections: “Whatever she might
feel about it, either good or ill, there was no excuse. She had to
do it, willingly or not” (390-91). Rather than condemning Osyth’s
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father, however, the poet slyly tells us that he acted “according
to the custom that existed at that time in their country.”
Siher, likewise, is no stock tyrant. The poet is careful to
point out that all of the claims against which Osyth rebels are
normal and legitimate. Not only is the would-be despoiler of
this maid’s virginity her own legitimate husband, but unlike a
Cecilia or an Alexis or a real-life Christina of Markyate, Osyth
does not try to convert him to a lifestyle of celibacy. Instead,
she uses cajolery, deception, and sexual manipulation to trick
him out of consummating the marriage. Siher behaves like any
newly married man:
Si tost cum li rois l’ad veue
Mut la coveite mut la desire
Et seinte Osith li dist, “beau sire,
Pur Deu merci, kar m’entendez,
(Et) aukes de respit me donez;
De ceste assemblé[e] entre nus
Dunt vus estes tant desirus,
Respit vus requer sire rey,
Si ja voilliez joir de mey.” (444-52)
[As soon as the king saw her, he greatly lusted for her and desired her, and
St. Osyth said to him: “Dear sir, for the love of God, listen to me and give me
some respite. I ask you for a small delay from this union between us which
you desire so much, sire King, if you ever wish to enjoy me.”]
Osyth implies that if he will just delay a little, she will eventually
give in. She never tells him the true reason that she is avoiding
sexual relations, but manipulates and teases him into granting
what she wants for three and a half years:
Cele pur rien ke sace dire,
Par boneirté plus ke pur ire,
Ne vout faire ne consentir
A son talent n’a son pleisir. (455-58)
[She, by anything that she could think of to say, but more in playfulness than
in anger, would not consent to his desire or his pleasure.]
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Her husband reacts with a very human mixture of anger and
Li reis comence a losenger,
E tel oure est, a coroucer;
Mes tant a purchasé et quis
E tant feit entre giu e ris,
De jur en jur est purloinié. (475-79)
[The king began first to flatter, and then to become angry. But so much she
exerted herself, and pleaded, and did so much between game and laughter,
that from day to day he was put off.]
Siher finally resolves to force himself on his wife after an
elaborate birthday celebration during which he has drunk heavily. Once he has made that decision, the woman’s resistance only
inflames his desire and hardens his determination. The hunt of
a mysterious white deer, whose sudden appearance deflects the
king and gives Osyth the opportunity to take the veil, also gives
the opportunity for further clarification of the king’s psychology. What has incited the king’s determination to rape his wife
has been the realization that she is afraid of him. He is aroused
at the idea of his own power:
Tant cum li reis vait demorant,
E ou ses chiens le cerf siwant,
Seinte Osith n’ad pas oblié
En quel pour aveit esté.
Ainz dist ke mes ne targera
De ceo k’out empense peç a. (627-32)
[The whole time that the king had been following the deer with his dogs,
he had never forgotten St. Osyth, and how afraid she had been. In fact he
said that he would not put off any longer what he had made up his mind to
do a little while before.]
Contrary to his expectations, however, he returns home to find
that his wife has taken the veil, a shock that is intensified by
coming just after the unsuccessful hunt of the deer. Once again
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the poet makes an acute observation on Siher’s psychology as
he confronts the limits of his power:
Le rei revient ja de chascer
U gueres ne put espleiter,
Corus e plein de maltalent;
A l’us de la sale descent
Car custume est, bien le savez,
Ke riche home coruce asez,
Kant sa beste aver a failli,
E il refist tut autresi. (679-86)
[The king returns from the hunt, where he had not been successful, angry
and in a full bad humor. He goes to the door of the hall, because it is the
custom—you know it well—for a powerful man to get very angry when he
fails to capture his quarry, and just so did the king.]
The king’s first reaction at the sight of his wife in her black veil
is sheer horror:
Al rei en fremist chacun peil
L’alme del cors pur poi s’en ist. (689-90)
[Every hair of the king stood up. His soul nearly fled from his body from
fear, so great was his dismay, so great was his fear.]
Then comes an angry confrontation. Siher shouts, insults, threatens, and finally begs his wife to change her mind. When he realizes
that he can neither bully nor wheedle her into submission, he
falls into despair. He shuts himself up in his room, stops eating
and drinking, and refuses to speak to anyone. Finally grief also
runs its course, and he resigns himself to his wife’s decision:
Quant sa dolur a fet asez
Ke tut put estre alessez,
Purpense sey a chef de tur
Ke rien ne vaut sa dolur
Kant veit ne puet estre mueé
A seinte Osith a gr[a]antée,
Ke remaine tut autresi
En cel abit k’ele ad choisi. (719-26)
328 PLL
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[When he had mourned enough, so that everything was relieved, he thought
finally that his grief was useless. When he saw that nothing could be changed,
he gave his permission to St. Osyth to remain as she was, in the habit which
she had chosen.]
Siher ultimately does not merely accept his wife’s decision; he
endows her with land, buildings, and the second daughter of
each of his counts and barons for her convent. Unlike St. Audrey, whose husband passively accepts his wife’s career choice,
Osyth’s husband plays the dual role of opponent to her virginity
and the founder of her house, which can claim ancient royal
privileges as well as divine consecration.
The model for Osyth’s relationship to God and her husband
is the precedence that a vassal’s obligation to the king would
take over his loyalty to his immediate lord.38 Osyth appeals to
God to protect her virginity in the same way that an aggrieved
tenant, claiming the king as his overlord, could appeal to the
Crown to protect himself against unjust vexation for service.39
She claims God’s protection from the demands of her husband
on the basis of her freely given vow to God, the terms of which
she has faithfully fulfilled:
Since William the Conqueror, tenants were required to swear an oath of allegiance
to the king as overlord. For an example of a priest who compares a woman to an
estate which a tenant (husband) holds from a king (God) who grants the tenant usage rights but not ownership, see the advice given by the abbot Adam of the Abbey
of Perseigne to the Comtesse du Perche at the end of the twelfth century in Georges
Duby, Love and Marriage in the Middle Ages, trans. Jane Dunnett (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1994), 27.
On the reasons why the king would have an interest in protecting those owing
service, see Hudson, Land, Law, and Lordship, 41-43. He mentions the king’s duty to
protect the poor from tyranny, of which unjust exactions were a sign; the fact that the
targets of distraint for services were often churches, the protection of which was the
particular obligation of the king; and the desire to protect the peace, since distraint
was often associated with violence. See also Scammell (“Formation of the English Social
Structure,” 602-03), who points out that Henry II’s military needs made it expedient
for him to promote the interests of a class of warriors who would thus owe particular
allegiance to the Crown rather than to their immediate overlords.
The Vie Seinte Osith
PLL 329
A Dieu ceo dist: “la vostre ancele
Pur vostre nun or defendez,
Le vostre poer i mestez
Si i mestrai trestut le mien
Ke ne seie pur nule rien
Hunye a nuit ne violée.
E quant me sui a vous donée
Defendez moy cum vostre amye
ke ne seie a nuit honye.” (434-42)
[To God she said, “Now defend your handmaiden for the sake of your name.
Show your power so that if I use all my power, grant that in no way shall I be
shamed or violated this night. And since I have given myself to you, defend
me as your lover, that I may not be shamed this night.”]
Osyth recognizes that her right to divine aid depends on her faithful fulfillment of her own obligations. On the occasion of Siher’s
fateful birthday party, she promises that if God will help her just
one more time, she will take action herself so that he will never
have to come to her aid again. Osyth’s taking of the veil is part of
the fulfillment of her vow to God: “Seinte Osith ad cest oure en
pris / Ke sur son chief le veil ad mis” (“He took St. Osyth at that
hour because she had placed the veil on her head,” 677-78).
Osyth rebels not only against the king, but also against the
bishops Ecca and Bedewin. Although the church considered
freely given consent essential to a valid marriage, and although
coercion was sufficient cause for the annulment of marriages,
obedience to parental wishes was the norm, and the degree of
force required to invalidate a marriage was generally considerable—most often a threat to life.40 Likewise, as Jocelyn WoganBrowne has noted, Osyth’s religious vow would not have entitled
her to repudiate the obligations of her marriage since it was not
a publicly taken solemn vow, but only a votum simplex.41 When
See R. H. Helmholz, Marriage Litigation in Medieval England (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1975; reprint, 1986), 90-94.
Wogan-Browne, “Saints’ Lives and the Female Reader,” Forum for Modern Language
Studies 27 (1991): 326.
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Osyth asks the bishops Ecca and Bedewin to grant her the veil
and they refuse, they are behaving according to the dictates of
canon law, which required that a married person obtain the
consent of his or her spouse before taking holy orders.42 By
having Osyth defy Ecca and Bedewin and place the veil on her
own head, the poet has deliberately complicated Osyth’s career
choice from his Latin source (in which the bishops gladly give
Osyth the veil) in such a way as to suggest that the individual is
justified in disobeying both secular and religious authorities if
these conflict with an inner conviction of moral right. The poet
makes the validity of holy orders depend on a direct relationship between God and the individual, thus placing consecrated
virginity under the control of the individual without any institutional mediation.
Osyth’s martyrdom represents the consummation of her
sworn obligation to God and entitles her to God’s protection
as a bride of Christ. Generally the virgin’s martyrdom involves
a test of faith, but that is not true in this case. Osyth’s death, as
Morgan J. Desmond has commented, is actually a murder rather
than a martyrdom, no different from those of the four girls who
are murdered with her.43 In the Latin life, the Danish pirates try
to force her to renounce her faith, as is usual in virgin martyr
stories, but if the version of Osyth’s life that was the source for
this poet contained such an element, he has removed it. Instead,
her martyrdom affirms her control and indeed her possession
of her own sexuality: the act of picking up her severed head,
carrying it into the church, marking the church doors with her
bloodied hands, and triumphantly placing her head on the altar
The law is Gratian, C. XXXIII. qu. v., c iii: “Mulier, si sine licentia mariti sui velum
in caput miserit, si viro placuerit, recipiat eam iterum ad coniugium” (as quoted in
Bethell, “The Lives of St. Osyth,” 100).
Morgan J. Desmond, “The Concept of Narrative among Twelfth-Century Vernacular
Hagiographers: A Comparison of the Vie de Sainte Marguerite, the Vie de Saint Gilles,
and the Vie de Saint Osith with Their Latin Sources” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1978), 123.
The Vie Seinte Osith
PLL 331
establishes her severed head as a metonym for her maidenhead
and represents both the consummation of the vow she made
to God to die a virgin and the authoring of her own “life.” As a
text, Osyth’s bloody hand-writing serves as a foundation charter
that establishes the nature of the church’s consecration, deriving
from a direct relationship between the saint and God without
the mediation of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. By marking the
door, Osyth writes the church’s history on the church itself,
which becomes in effect a document of its special privileges
and exemptions.
The miracle of the paralytic woman, another addition by
the Anglo-Norman poet, looks at the lordship relationship from
the point of view of the obligations of service. In its treatment
of repentant sinners, this poem reflects a Ciceronian concept
of iustitia, defined by Cicero as “rendering each man his due
deserts,” in contrast to a later, sacramentalist view of justice that
derives from Augustine and opposes the quid pro quo morality of
human justice to divine justice, rooted in the divine nature itself
and illustrated by Augustine through the parable of the workers
in the vineyard.44 The development of the sacramentalist view
of penance, leading finally to the doctrine that the sacrament
of penance was essential to the remittance of sin, without which
no one could be saved, was a development of the thirteenth century, especially following the imposition of frequent penance by
Lateran IV. It contrasted with an earlier, contritionist doctrine of
penance according to which absolution was the result of a direct
relationship between an individual and God, dependent on the
quality of the individual’s penitence, in which the intervention of
the priest served merely as a confirmation of absolution that came
from God. The sacramentalist conception of penance removed
from individuals any role in their own salvation and made them
In the twelfth century the reconciliation between divine justice and divine mercy was
a matter of debate. Myrc and others viewed the Augustinian doctrine of salvation by
grace as a deception of the devil and a heresy. See Andrea Hopkins, The Sinful Knights:
A Study of Middle English Penitential Romance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 146.
332 PLL
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dependent on the sacraments of the church and the intervention
of the priest for their salvation. The vernacular didactic literature
designed to teach the post-Lateran IV educational program, including miracles of the virgin and saints’ lives, repetitively shows
that the way to salvation lies through the sacraments of the church
and not through the individual’s own efforts. A constant feature
is the unmerited forgiveness of the repentant sinner through the
intervention of the church. This pattern places the individual on
the lowest link of a chain of authority stretching from him or her,
up through the church hierarchy, and all the way to God. Such
a view, in which the individual has no claim by right or merit to
salvation, contrasts strikingly with the miracles of St. Osyth, which
reflect the twelfth-century distrust of the doctrine of salvation by
grace and model the relationship between God and individual on
the contractual model that was emerging throughout the twelfth
century as the ideal of good lordship.
The story tells of a crippled woman who, after journeying all
over England in search of a cure, is at last instructed in a dream
by a vision of St. Edmund that she can receive a cure only from
St. Osyth. After objecting that she has never heard of Osyth
and does not know where to find her, the woman finally takes
Edmund’s advice and seeks her out. Just as Edmund promised,
she is cured. In gratitude for her cure, she asks permission to be
allowed to stay and serve St. Osyth, which she does faithfully for
many years until she is seduced by a scullion named Godwin. In
punishment for this offense, Osyth fixes her feet together in the
form of a cross, returning her to the state of paralysis from which
she had freed her. Despite the woman’s repentance and pleas
for forgiveness, and despite the prayers of her canons to show
the woman mercy, Osyth refuses to relent until many years later
when the scullion finally dies.45 This episode makes it plain that
Russell has argued that the harshness of Osyth’s behavior here in contrast to the
sympathy with which Siher was treated suggests that this miracle was composed by an
older and less courtly author. He is especially surprised by the fact that the scullion, who
The Vie Seinte Osith
PLL 333
the model for the relationship between Christian and saint is a
contractual one in which the benefits depend on the scrupulous
fulfillment of the obligations that have been freely accepted.
The woman has, in effect, violated her oath of fealty and given
faith to another master, which causes her to forfeit the rewards
she had received from the relationship. Osyth’s long-delayed
release of the woman has nothing to do with the length of the
woman’s punishment, but rather with the death of the scullion,
Osyth’s rival for the woman’s fealty. Osyth’s canons protest her
intransigence, but she is entitled to ignore them because she
has suffered a default of service.46
The disseisin of Chich represents the culminating episode
in the career of a lone woman who has successfully defied the
authority of the most important social, religious, and political
institutions of the time. In its denunciation of unlawful disseisin and its mixture of fiction with historical figures and real
events, this episode is reminiscent of Fouke Le FitzWaryn. The
episode recounts an historical event: the expropriation of the
lands, rents, and tithes of the canons at Chich by Richard I, followed by his stroke and change of heart. The poem names as
Richard’s emissaries William of Wokindon and Rad’ Patin, both
of whom are known from other documents. Charter evidence
shows that William of Ockendon was Richard’s steward and Ranulfus Patin was his clerk and a canon of St. Paul’s, and Leland’s
notes confirm that they were sent by Richard to Chich to oust
the canons from their lands. The poem splits the figure of the
was the instigator of this crime, is not punished, in contrast to the harsh punishment
suffered by the woman he seduced (“The Secularization of Hagiography,” 11-14).
This was in fact one of the conditions that justified the dissolution of tenurial relationship. Breaches of homage constituted felonies, and these could bring the tenurial
relationship to an end. For example, in the time of King Stephen, when Robert of
Meppershall stayed at Meppershall and left Biddlesden, for which he failed to render
service to the earl of Leicester or send anyone else in his stead, the land escheated
to the earl, who gave it to his steward, Ernald de Bosco, for his service. See Hudson,
Land, Law, and Lordship, 20.
334 PLL
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historical Richard into two persons. This is possibly because the
poet confused Richard I with Richard II, but it is also possible
that for literary, didactic purposes, he divided the character of
Richard I into two: the “good” Richard, who endowed St. Osyth’s,
and the later, “bad” Richard, who was punished for trying to
expropriate its lands.47
The episode treats two different aspects of the behavior
characteristic of proper lordship: the obligation not to seize the
lands of one’s tenants unlawfully and the obligation, as a donor,
to protect the lands of one’s gift. This last, in fact, was one of
the obligations of warranty which, as Paul Hyams has shown,
approximates what could be called tenants’ rights and required
lords to protect their gifts to vassals against third party claims,
or if they were unable to do so, to grant in exchange an equal
piece of land. In other words, not only must a lord take care that
he himself had full rights to any gift he made, but he must also
come to the aid of his vassal in the case of outside aggression.
According to Hyams, a lord “committed himself in this way to
aiding against all outside challenge a tenant with as full right
against the world as he could guarantee.”48
The poet tells how Bishop Richard, uncaring of the good
example set by his predecessor who had established the canons
at St. Osyth’s, sent his ministers to Chich in order to expel the
canons from their lands and seize their emoluments for himself.
The first part of this episode describes the reaction of Osyth’s
canons to this aggression after the departure of Richard’s agents.
In stark contrast to the humble supplication that characterizes
the appeals to saintly protection against injustice in a poem like
La Vie de Sainte Modwenne, Osyth’s canons rebel not against their
If the poem was written as a response to the attempts of Richard II to expropriate the churches of St. Osyth, splitting the figure of Richard would have served to
admonish him that interfering with his predecessor’s gift might result in a similar
fate for him.
Hyams, “Warranty and Good Lordship,” 453.
The Vie Seinte Osith
PLL 335
bishop but against Osyth! When she appears to have deserted
her obligation to protect them and their property despite their
long and faithful service, they do not hesitate to repudiate and
revile her and remove her shrine from the church:
K’ele deust bien a lur avis
Defendre les de lur enemis,
A sa fiertre vienent errant
L’ymage ostent tres estant
Hors l’us l’eglise l’unt posé
Cume pur prendre son cungé.
Le fiertre covrent d’une here,
Ceo signe ke de joie volent trere,
Ne volent (seinte) Osith plus loer
Kar par semblant la hu n’ad cher,
Ou lermes e ou plaintes funt
Asez saver ke il au quer unt,
[E] seinte Osith vunt chalengant
K’en cest surfet est si suffrant. (1489-1502)
[Because she should certainly, in their opinion, defend them from their
enemies, they came quickly to her tomb, immediately picked up the shrine,
and placed it outside the church as if to take her leave. They covered the
shrine with a cloth. That signified that they wanted to withdraw from happiness. They didn’t want to praise St. Osyth any more, because it seemed that
she did not hold that place dear. With tears and weeping they made it plain
what they had in their hearts, and they protested against St. Osyth, who was
so tolerant of this outrage.]
Just when we might expect to hear “O ye of little faith” uttered in reproach of the materialistic concerns of these faithless
ecclesiastics who are behaving as if their patron saint had sold
them a fake Rolex, Osyth validates their protests by striking
Bishop Richard with a paralysis. This poet justifies Osyth’s canons
in expecting the saint to fulfill her obligations to them in the
same way that he justified Osyth for withdrawing the miraculous
cure from the woman who failed to live up to her commitment
to Osyth. The relationship between Osyth and her canons is
based on a model of lordship in which the vassal can expect
336 PLL
Jane Dick Zatta
maintenance and protection against his enemies in exchange
for faithful service.
At the same time, lords, even ecclesiastical lords, who unjustly
dispossess their vassals can expect punishment from a higher
authority. From the twelfth century, the king’s interest in having subjects more directly tied to him than to their immediate
overlord led to a series of innovations, especially in the reign
of Henry II, by which aggrieved tenants could appeal their lord
to the Crown. The assize of novel disseisin gave anyone who
had been dispossessed the chance to recover his lands just by
proving that he had once held them; this established a class of
landholders who held their lands thanks to royal intervention,
even in spite of the lord from whom they held them.49 Osyth’s
punishment of Bishop Richard for dispossessing the canons at
Chich reflects the developments in England in the twelfth century, when lordship became increasingly a legal rather than a
personal relationship whose terms were considered binding on
both parties.50 Upon returning to London and finding that his
lord has been struck with paralysis, the bishop’s steward explains
the meaning of that event:
“Beau sire cher, tres bien savez
Vers Dampnedeu mespris avez.
Vers seinte Osith nomeement
Ke nus avum si folement
Ja desaisie de sa terre;
Empris avum mut fole guerre;
Quei k’en apres seit fet de nus
La peine chiet primes sur vus.” (1561-68)
[“My fine dear lord, you very well know that you have committed a wrong
against God, and namely against St. Osyth whom we have so foolishly disseised
See Scammell, “Formation of the English Social Structure,” 606-09.
The Leges Henrici also note the possibility of bad lordship when they state that “if
a lord deprives his man of his land or his fee by virtue of which he is his man, or he
deserts him without cause in his hour of mortal need, he may forfeit his lordship
over him” (Hudson, Land, Law, and Lordship, 62).
The Vie Seinte Osith
PLL 337
of her land. We have undertaken a very foolish quarrel: whatever should
become of us afterwards, the consequences fall first on you.”]
As the poet tells us in the prologue and again in the epilogue, the superior value of saints’ lives in comparison to secular literature resides in the better advantages of the former.
The appeal of this life lies in offering the menus gents, whether
ecclesiastical or lay, an imaginative retaliation for a use of force
that in practice was far from uncommon.51 As the poet tells us
in the epilogue,
Bien resavurn la verité
Seinte Osith ad grant pousté
Ke Dampnedeu li ad doné,
Asez veu et bien musté
De sey venger e de ses enemis
Ke li mesfunt en son pais.
E pousté read ensement,
De mut valer a tute gent,
Ke Deu voudrunt e li servir,
Mut bien purrat trestut merir
Quanque hum frat pur li de bien,
Ne puet estre perdeu pur rien. (1664-75)
[We well know the truth. St. Osyth has great power that God has given her,
as it has been seen and shown abundantly, to avenge herself on her enemies
who wronged her in her country, and likewise the power to be of great value
to all people, those who love God and serve her. Very well she can reward
whatever good people do for her. It can’t be lost for anything.]
Like so many other works, this poem shows an awareness of
literature as a means of imaginative self-determination. Osyth is
a passionate and vengeful protectress who vehemently defends
the material interests of herself and her faithful, holding out
to the audience the prospect of celestial help in the redress of
terrestrial wrongs. Osyth is the advocate of the weak against the
powerful, and in order to make this point the more strongly, the
poem draws the authority of Osyth exactly from the things that
See Bethell, “Richard of Belmeis,” 92.
338 PLL
Jane Dick Zatta
require her subjection. By insisting that God’s saints are made up
“not just of males only, but also of women in the same way, saints
and true handmaidens of God and quite tender maids” (47-48),
the text aligns Osyth’s gendered identity, her Englishness, and
her textual obscurity in order to inscribe a saintly democracy in
which the authority of Osyth is equal to that of England’s premier king-saint, St. Edmund himself. In so doing, however, this
poem constructs and justifies a woman who vindicates her right
to self-determination and freedom from the authority of king,
father, husband, and priest not in the extreme and inimitable
ways of a Catherine or a Cecilia, but by using strategies available
to any stubbornly willful twelfth-century noblewoman: pretended
acquiescence, deceit, cajolery, sexual manipulation, and disobedience. It may be that such a strong-willed and successful woman
was a literary creation, the unintentional by-product of other
purposes, long before she was ever a fact. But once created, the
literary figure offers a model for real women.
The Life of St Osith
PLL 339
La Vie seinte Osith, virge e martire
(MS BL Addit. 70513, ff. 134va-146vb)
The Life of St Osith
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE TEXT: The text, written in two columns per page, begins,
after the opening rubric in red, with an illuminated initial C , five lines high.
Within the edited text, a large drop capital indicates a large majuscule letter
in the manuscript, written over two line spaces. Scribal abbreviations have
been silently expanded, following the scribe’s practice for the same word
found written in full. Editorial additions of words or letters judged to have
been inadvertently omitted by the scribe are enclosed in square brackets;
missing lines are indicated by ellipsis marks enclosed within square brackets.
Rejected readings and scribal deletions or additions are indicated within the
line, inside parentheses, preceded by ms:, e.g. (ms: deivre) 163, (ms: eras.-----)
216; editorial interventions may similarly be indicated, e.g. (528-29 interverted
by ed.). We have followed modern practice with respect to punctuation, the
use of capital letters for proper names, the distinction between u/v, i/j, c/ç,
the use of the acute accent on tonic final –e. Because of our uncertain knowledge of Anglo-Norman metrics, the tréma has not been used, nor is the text
emended solely for metrical reasons.The scribal omission of final unaccented
–e is noted by the use of an apostrophe, e.g. seint’ Osith 103. Foliation and
column number is indicated inside square brackets, in the right margin opposite the first line.
ON THE TRANSLATION: The text is translated into prose from the original’s verse
couplets as closely as is consistent with fluent modern English. The past
tense is used, as is conventional in most English narrative, even where the
text alternates past and historic present. Line numbers in the original are
given in brackets at the end of each paragraph. Manuscript paragraphing has
been followed where possible, but extra paragraphs have been introduced
as necessary.
Edition and transcription © D.W. Russell, University of Waterloo 2005
La Vie seinte Osith, virge e martire
The text as printed here remains that
published in PLL, 41, nos. 3 & 4 (2005). A
corrected version of the critical text can be found
in the Campsey electronic text. Corrections
include minor punctuation and emendations to a
few words.
These are as follows:
Add a comma at line end for ll. 75, 76, 79, 134,
200, 227, 229, 309, 373, 460, 651, 653, 1086.
Change the comma to a full stop at ll. 198, 1375.
Add full stop at end of l. 800.
Add internal line comma after preist 228, Chich
l. 96 change malgré to mal gré
l. 252 change al aler to a l'aler
l. 367 change neé to nee[e]
l. 425 change dreit to dreit'
ll. 808, 1486 read erraument
l. 943 change del to de l'
l. 1652 emend to: si cum [li] fu furmee
PLL 340
La Vie seinte Osith
eo nus mustre seinte escripture,
Bon fu ki met en Deu sa cure
Et aime e creient son creatur
Plus ke ne fet autre seigniur;
Ki l’aime e creient e bien le sert,
Ne ci ne ailliurs ja ne pert;
Ki guerpist terre pur son non
Ciel li donne de guerdon;
Ne change cil pas follement
Ke terre lesse e le ciel prent;
Ne folement ne change mie
Ke lesse mort e receit vie;
[Fol. 134vb]
Cil change bien, cil change a dreit
Ki mort lesse e vie receit;
Kar certes del mund la richesse
N’est fors dolur e granz tristesce;
Honur del mond est trespassable,
Et a nus tuz mut poi estable.
Ki ne volt creire ne saveir,
Bien l’os dire, fols est pur veir.
Veum par ceus ke sunt alé,
Nos ancestres e trespassé:
U sont nos aels e nos peres,
U nos uncles, u nos meres,
Ke tant furent riches e beaus,
Assez orent dras e chivaus?
Tuz i sont alez, sachez en fin,
Si vous atendunt en chemin;
[ . . . . . . .]
Quel jur son eire ert aprestez;
Pur ceo vous di, si l’entendez,
Ki aime Deu bonz fu neez.
The Life of St Osith
PLL 341
oly scriptures show us that he who puts his faith in
God and loves and fears his creator more than he
does any other lord does well: whoever loves and
fears him and serves him well will never lose, either
here or elsewhere. Whoever gives up land for his
sake will receive heaven as a reward. He who gives up earth and
receives heaven does not make a foolish bargain; nor he who
gives up death and takes life. He makes a good exchange, he
exchanges well who leaves death and receives life. For certainly
the wealth of the world is nothing but pain and great sadness:
the honor of the world is temporary and very unstable for us
all. I can confidently say that whoever doesn’t want to believe
or know this is truly foolish. We can see by those who have died,
our ancestors. Where are our grandfathers and fathers? Where
are our uncles and our mothers who were so rich and so beautiful, who had so many robes and horses? They have all gone,
you may be quite certain, and they are waiting for you on the
way […] on the day his journey will be ready.1 For this reason
I say to you, if you will listen, that whoever loves God was born
fortunate. ——
On the day his journey will be ready (Quel jur son eire ert aprestez 30): the rhyme and
the sense suggest there is a missing line here; but it is possible occasionally to have
3 lines in rhyme, and it may be that this should read, with minor correction of “ton
eire” (from “son eire” 30)—‘and they await you on the road [to heaven], on whatever
day your journey [i.e. death] will be made.’
PLL 342
La Vie seinte Osith
Kar tant cum il Deu amera,
Et son servise meintendra,
Pur veir vous di, n’estut doter
Quel jur deive del siecle aler.
Deu tant bonz fu finement
Ke de seinz Deu example prent,
Ki gurpirent terre e honur
Et tut le mund pur Deu amur,
Et soffrirent hunte e esclandre;
Pur Deu firent lur sanc espandre;
En bon entente e en bon espeir
Mort donerent pur vie aveir;
De tels a grant plenté trovum
En seinz escriz ke nus lisum;
Et nient de madles solement,
Mes de femmes tuit ensement;
Seintes e veraies Deu anceles,
Et de [al]quanz tendres puceles,
Ke tut le mund unt refusé
Pur prendre sei a Dampnedé,
Et suffrirent pur son non
Ou veraie conpunction.
e une tele volum parler
Ke durement fet a loer,
Ke Deu ama e Deu servi,
Et tut le mund pur li guerpi;
Et pur son verai creatur
Guerpi son terrien seigniur.
Li reis estoit fort e puissant,
Pur Deu l’ad tut refusant,
Pur li suffri peine e dolur,
Et martyre a chef de tur.
La virge dunt voil parler
Sovent avez oy nomer,
Sa vie n’estut guerres leue,
[Fol. 135ra]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 343
For I tell you truly, as long as he loves God and keeps in his
service, there is no need to fear the day he must depart from
the world. (1-36)
ertainly dear to God in this way was one such who took
example from God’s saints, those who abandoned land
and honor and all the world for God’s love and suffered
shame and slander and allowed their blood to be spilled for
God. With good intentions and in good hope they gave their
death in order to receive life. We find a great many such in holy
writings that we read. And not only men but also women, saints
and true handmaidens of God, and many tender girls who have
rejected all the world to commit themselves to God and suffered
for his name with true compunction. (37-54)
e want to speak about one of these who is greatly to
be praised, and who loved and served God and left all
the world for him, and abandoned her earthly lord for
her true creator. It was a strong and powerful king whom she
rejected for God’s sake, for whom she suffered pain and sadness
and finally martyrdom. You have often heard the name of the
virgin about whom I want to speak to you ——
PLL 344
Ne cum dreit fust partut seue;
Ele est par non Osyd nomee,
De Engletere nurrie e nee;
A Deu voua son pucelage,
Et bien le tint tut son age;
Sa vie est bele e gloriuse,
Seinte e duce e preciuse;
En cest romanz purrum oir
Aprendre bien e retenir
De seinte Osith e de sa vie,
Cum Deu la choisi a amie;
Cum Deu l’aveit amé e chere
Mustré l’ad en meinte manere;
Par miracles e par vertu
Ke en plusurs lius sunt avenu,
Et bien veu par Engletere,
Et en la peis e en la guerre;
Ke Deus i ad fet aparer
Et nuit e jur e matin e seir;
Entendez i communaument,
Kar ge le vus di seurement,
Meuz vaut oir ci entur
Ke de la geste paenur,
De Gurcedin e de Saisons,
Deu enemis e felons,
Et d’autre teus pur verité,
U l’em vus ment a grant plenté;
Ky aime e ot la vanité,
Deu li en set mut malgré.
Des seinz Deu la veraie estoire
Devum aver bien en memoire;
Kar quant nus la folur oum,
Essample sovent en pernum;
La Vie seinte Osith
[Fol. 135rb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 345
but her life is not much read nor is it known by all as it should
be. Her name is Osith, born and bred in England. She vowed
her maidenhood to God and kept this vow all her life.2 Her life is
beautiful and glorious, holy, sweet, and precious. In this French
story3 we can hear and learn about St Osith and commemorate
her and her life; how God chose her for his lover; how God loved
and cherished her and has shown it in many ways, by miracles and
marvels that have happened in a number of places, and which
have been clearly seen throughout England both in peace and
in war, and which God has revealed both night and day, morning
and evening. Listen all together, for I tell you certainly that it is
better to listen to this than to the deeds of pagans, of Gurredin
and the Saxons,4 enemies of God and evil-doers,5 and to other
such things, where you will be told many lies. Those who love
and listen to vanity are not welcome to God. We must hold in
our memories the true histories of God’s saints because when
we listen to folly, we very often take example from it —
And kept this vow all her life (Et bien le tint tut son age 72): for the possibility that
Osith was the mother of Offa, son of Sighere, see Hagerty 127-28. Bede mentions
this Offa in his Historia Ecclesiastica: see Colgrave and Mynors v, 19, 516 (henceforth
Bede, HE).
French story (romanz 75): the term ‘romanz’ can indicate the narrative genre of
romance, but also frequently means ‘vernacular version.’ See further Zatta 1998.
Gurredin and the Saxons (de Guercedin e de Saisons 91): perhaps Guerredin, a pagan
king who appears in both the early and late twelfth century recensions of the Chanson
d’Antioche, or Guithechin/Guitheclin who is the king of the Saxons in Jean Bodel of
Arras’s Les Saisnes, a chanson de geste of the late twelfth or early thirteenth century (see
Moisan 520, s.v. Guenedon, and Brasseur). The rhetorical opposition of saints’ lives
and chansons de geste is conventional and works to underline similarities between the
two genres, whose relationship such opposition ‘almost inevitably invites the audience
to reconsider’ (Russell 1991, 4).
Evil-doers (felons 92): another possible sense is ‘traitor’: the Saracens may be regarded as traitors to God who should be their lord as he is that of Christians. On the
assimilation of Saxons and Saracens, see Speed.
PLL 346
Ky sen escute e sen entent
Il en amende mut sovent.
e saint’ Osith ore vous dirum,
Si cum en l’escrit le trovum;
Certes mut fet a amer,
Et a criendre e a duter;
Mut par est bien de Deu lasus,
Bien le direz kant orez plus;
Mut est dutuse a curucer,
Kar tantost pense sei venger;
N’i ad mester coruz ne plait,
Tost se venge ki se mesfait
Cum vus avant orez assez;
En cest romanz si l’entendez,
Ne serrez de fables peu,
Mes de miracles e de verteu,
Ke Deus en Engletere fist
Pur seint’ Osith k’a li se prist;
Si en crei ke volenters l’orast
Ke seint’ Osith gré le saverast;
Kar ki voudra bien puet aider
Ves Dampnedeu e avancier.
Ore entendez bien dunc sa vie
K’en puissez aver aie,
Sucurs e son amendement
Vers Dampnedeu omnipotent.
a virge Deu tant bonuree
Ke seinte Osith est apellee,
Gentil estoit de parenté,
Fillie ert au rei mut renomé,
En Engletere estoit cil reis,
Fredeyold l’apelent Engleis.
Seinte Osith out cil rei a pere,
Withborc reine fu sa mere
Ke estoit fillie Pende le rey,
La Vie seinte Osith
[Fol. 135va]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 347
while he who listens to sensible things and understands them
can very often improve himself. (55-102)
ow we will tell you about St Osith, as we have found it written down. She is well worthy of being loved and respected
and feared. She is on very good terms with God on high,
as you will certainly say when you hear more. It’s very dangerous
to anger her because she thinks immediately of avenging herself.
Nor does she need her anger to develop into a formal offence or
a legal action:6 she readily revenges herself on whoever wrongs
her, as you will hear fully farther on. In this French story,7 if
you listen, you will not be fed with fables but with miracles and
marvels that God performed in England for St Osith who committed herself to him.8 And I believe that those of you who listen
willingly will know St Osith’s gratitude. For anyone who wishes it
can certainly help himself to advance towards God. Now listen
well to her life so that you can have help, aid, and advancement
through her with God the all-powerful. (103-126)
he blessed virgin of God who is named St Osith came from
a noble lineage. She was the daughter of a famous king.
This king dwelt in England and was called Fredewald by
the English.9 St Osith had this king for father and her mother
was Withburga the queen, who was the daughter of Penda, a
A formal offence or legal action (coruz ne plait, 111): here understood as anger leading to legal action: see J. H. Baker s.v. corouce.
French story (romanz 114): see n. 3 to line 75 above.
Committed herself to him (k’a li se prist 118): the masculine and feminine indirect
pronoun are identical here, and the phrase may mean either that God takes Osith
to himself or that Osith takes God to herself.
Fredewald [also Frithuwold, Fredeswoldi] (Fredeyold 132): not mentioned in Bede,
but seems from c. 655-c. 670 to have been a sub-regulus in South Mercia (Bailey 39,
41-2), probably connected with the family of St Frideswide of Oxford (Blair 1987,
87). For the debate over whether there were two St Osiths, one at Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire and one at Chich, Essex, see Hohler, who argues for two early sets of
traditions combined in a lost life which was the source for three later lives (accepted
by Bethell 1970a, 103; counterarguments in Bailey).
PLL 348
La Vie seinte Osith
De grant puissance e de nobley,
Et mut out en subjection;
Seint Bede en fait grant mention
En cele estorie des Engleis,
Et dist tut fust cil paens reis
Il out enfanz de bone fey,
Verais en crestiene ley;
Un fiz aveit mut renomé,
Fillies e neces a grant plenté
Ki se pristrent a Deu del tut,
[Fol. 135vb]
Amerent e servirent mut.
Le reis Pende dunt ay parlé
Les cheres enfanz out engendré
Ke Dampnedeu a sei choisi;
Lur non avez assez oy;
L’une est nomé Keneburc,
Et l’autre ad non Eadburc,
Seinte Osith fu del parenté,
Kar lur niece fu pur verité;
Example prist de lur chasteté,
Pur Dampnedeu servir a gré;
Entains en sa primere enfance
En fiz Deu out sa fiance;
Entente e tut s’amur
Aveit en Deu son creatur;
Richesce aveit a grant noblei
Si cume fillie a riche rei;
Plenté de beivre (ms: deivre) e de manger,
Et quanque l’em ad en mund cher;
Mes trestut ce petit preisa,
Pur Deu despit e tut lessa,
La richesce ne tut le bien
K’eu mund veeit ne preise rien;
Bien le sachez ke la pucele
De face estoit e clere e bele,
The Life of St Osith
PLL 349
king of great power and nobility who ruled over many. St Bede
makes prominent mention of him in his history of the English
and says that although this king was a pagan, he had children
of true faith, Christians true to Christian law.10 He had a very
famous son and many daughters and nieces who all took God as
their own and loved and served him greatly. King Penda about
whom I have spoken begot some dear children whom God chose
for himself. You have heard their names often enough. One was
named Kyneburga and another was named Eadburga.11 St Osith
was their relative, for she was their niece. She took example from
their chastity to serve God willingly. Already during her early
childhood she had chosen the son of God as her betrothed. All
her love and desire was fixed on God her creator. Since she was
the daughter of a rich king, she had wealth and nobility, plenty
to eat and drink,12 and whatever men hold dear in the world.
But she did not value all this. She despised and abandoned
everythingfor God’s sake. She saw no value in all the wealth
and goods of the world. You should know that this girl had a
beautiful, bright face ——
Penda, a king … (Pende le rey 135): Penda, king of Mercia (d. 654), Osith’s maternal
grandfather, is indeed prominent in Bede, though his daughters are not: for a table of
Penda’s children see Bailey 39-40, and on the daughters (who were all, except Withburga,
abbesses or nuns) see Blair 2002 s.v. Eadburh, Eadgyth, Cyneburh, and Cyneswith.
Kyneburga … Edburga (Keneburc ... Eadburc 151-52): Osith’s aunts are Eadburh
[Edburga] of Adderbury and Cyneburh [Kyneburga] of Castor (see n. 10 above).
Drink (beivre 163) MS deivre. We take writing de beivre as an example of scribal
PLL 350
La Vie seinte Osith
De cors bien fete e acemee,
Mes plus dedenz fu esmeree;
Riches e poveres refusa,
Son pucelage a Deu voua,
Et cil requist come seigniur
Ke violee ne seit nul jur;
Et Dampnedeu bien l’en oy,
Par sa duçur e par sa merci
Ne perdi sa virginité (ms: virginitee),
Pur nul home de mere né (ms: nee);
Unc nul hom de ce ne la conuit,
Virge nasqui, virge morut.
a vile u seinte Osith fu nee
Querendone est apellee;
Assez sevent li paisant
K’en la cuntré sunt manant,
Plusurs [del] luitain autresi,
Le liu u seinte Osith nasqui;
Enseignie i ad assez apert,
Ke puet chescum fere cert,
Unkes pus jekes a cest jur
Au liu n’out herbe ne verdur;
Par son nestre le liu est sacré,
Et de tut humein us sequestré;
Dementers k’en ceste vie fu,
Deu fist pur lui mut grant vertu,
Et pus k’est martir mut a fest,
Dunt partie orrez si vus plest,
Pur vus joir ge dirray
Une partie ke apris ay
Si cum avant vus disai
Kant des parenz Osith tuchai;
Seinte Osith out grant parenté
De grant richesce e de grant seinteté,
Aels e uncles de grant poesté,
[Fol. 136ra]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 351
and a well-made and slender body, but she was even more refined
within. She refused rich and poor suitors alike. She had vowed
her virginity to God and she asked him, as her lord, to make
sure that her virginity would never be violated at any time. And
God heard her request. Because of his mildness and mercy, she
never lost her virginity for any man of woman born. No man
ever knew her in this way. She was born a virgin and she died a
virgin. (127-182)
he town where Osith was born is named Quarrendon.13
Plenty of people who live in the area and many also from
far away know the place where St Osith was born. It has
been clearly revealed, so that anyone who cares to do so can
see for himself, that never afterwards to this day has there been
either grass or plant in that place. The place was sanctified by
her birth and sequestered from all human use. During the time
that she was alive, God performed many miracles through her
and many more after she was martyred of which you will hear a
part if it pleases you. To give you something to profit by, I will tell
you some part of what I have learned about them. As I told you
before when I touched on Osith’s parents, St Osith came from
a noble lineage of great wealth and great holiness: grandfathers
and uncles of great power, ——
Quarrendon in Buckinghamshire was, as its name suggests, called after a hill above
its river crossing (close to the confluence of Quarrendon stream with the Thames):
the present site has a church opposite the hill at the end of a causeway . The area
was important territory for Fredewald and his kin’s ambitioins in the seventh century.
Its villa regalis was within sight of Aylesbury monastery, and its church of St Peter was
probably connected with a seventh-century foundation associate with Osith (Everson
9-11, 37-38).
PLL 352
La Vie seinte Osith
Auntes e neces de grant chasteté;
Li plus d’euz sunt assemblé,
Au pere Osith sunt conseillié
Ke a tel mestre seit Osith baillie[e]
K’en nule manere seit afole[e];
A Modwin baillier a plus plout,
[Fol. 136rb]
A cest consent le conseil finout.
Kant la pucele parler saveit,
A Modwen l’abesse baillie esteit;
A merveillie ama e chere tint,
A Rome fu, (ms eras.:-------) ou li revint.
Ceste Modwen dunt ay dist,
Juste Ardene teus musters fist;
L’on a Poleswurthe (ms polesuurche) ce dient la gent,
L’autre en Straneshale vereiment.
Modwen en l’en sujurna,
A Edith l’autre otreia;
The Life of St Osith
PLL 353
aunts and nieces of great chastity. A number of them got together
and advised Osith’s father that he should entrust her to a teacher
who could be relied upon not to lead her astray. Most of them
thought it a good idea to hand her over to Modwenna,14 and this
was the advice that the council ended by giving. When the girl
knew how to talk, she was given to the abbess Modwenna. Modwenna greatly loved and cherished her. She traveled to Rome and
back with her. This Modwenna I have spoken about established
two churches beside the forest of Arden, one at Polesworth, as
people say, and the other at Straneshall.15 Modwenna lived in
one and Edith in the other. ——
Hand her over to Modwenna…. Modwenna was taken up to heaven (A Modwin
baillier…. Modwen fu en cel mene[e] 211….377): Osith’s stay with Modwenna (and her
subsequent drowning and resurrection in the river Anker) was thought by Baker to
have been a later interpolation (Baker 1911, 480-81). Zatta has argued convincingly
that Baker’s linguistic, prosodic, and historical arguments for a composite poem by
three writers are insufficient or circular, and that there is no barrier and every reason
for the Anglo-Norman Vie de seinte Osith to have been composed as a single poem
in the late twelfth century (pp. 316-17 above). It is not clear what source materials
the Anglo-Norman Osith writer used for Osith’s schooling in Arden: Modwenna’s
foundations there are already part of that saint’s life by the time of Conchubrannus’s
eleventh-century vita (Bartlett 2002, xviii). None of the extant Latin Osith vitae give
the incident with as much detail as does Geoffrey of Burton in his late twelfth-century
life of St Modwenna (though Geoffrey’s source, Conchubrannus, also shares several
points with the Anglo-Norman Osith), yet the thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman
Modwenne and the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman Osith agree in some details against
Geoffrey of Burton’s vita (see Bethell 1970a, 84-85 for a tabulation of all versions
and 124-27 for Conchubrannus and Geoffrey’s texts). In a further notable incident,
the ritual humiliation of the patron saint by her monks, Osith and Modwenna again
share motifs, but the Anglo-Norman Osith is closer to Geoffrey of Burton than to the
Anglo-Norman Modwenne (see p. 429 and n. 44 below).
Polesworth … Straneshall (Poleswurthe … Straneshale 219-20): both foundations
are here ascribed to Modwenna, whereas in the Anglo-Norman Modwenne, Polesworth is founded for Edith by her brother Atulf ([Æthelwulf] Baker and Bell 67, v.
1887; 90, v. 2553) when she becomes Modwenna’s disciple, and subsequently given
into her charge by Modwenna when she leaves for a quieter contemplative life at
‘Strenehale’ (Baker and Bell 90-91, vv. 2571, 2587-88). Polesworth’s foundation as
a pre-Conquest house is attested only in post-Conquest sources (Foot 139-42): Matthew Paris, for instance (in an account somewhat reminiscent of Osith’s own life),
says that King Athelstan’s sister Edith (d. 925) founded Polesworth as a virgin widow
after the death of her pagan husband Sihtric of Northumbria who had repudiated
PLL 354
La Vie seinte Osith
Al rei Edfrid esteit seur,
Modwen ver li out grant amur.
Un jur issi aveneit
K’en oreisons Modwen loinz aleit;
A Edith Osith enveia
Ke bien la preist kar mut l’ama;
Sa compaigne out lung tens estee
Mut fu de lui joius’ e lee.
Aukes tens ert trepassé,
Modwene a muster est repairé.
Un livre out trové Edithz,
Plein de proverbes e de bonz diz,
Examples i trova a grant plenté
De vertuz e de seinteté,
Ne vot cel bien sule celer
Mes ou Modwen commun[i]er.
A volage ne vot baillier
Ki l’empeireit de leger,
Osith apella par grant duçur:
“Plereit,” dist ele, “bele seur,
A nostre mere Modwen aler,
A li cest livre par moi porter?
Dirrez ke granz bienz i puet trover,
Dunt se memes puet amender,
Et par doctrines k’ele trovera,
Tuz les sens amender purra.”
Osith encline, lui otria,
Dist ke volenters i (ms: il) irra;
Le livre prent, rien ne resta,
Mes al aler se presta.
Ha, Deu! ke Edith ne seust l’aventure
K’avendreit a Osith en cest’ ure,
Ne la lerreit aler si cum je crei
Pur tut l’or Mide le rey.
[Fol. 136va]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 355
Edith was sister to king Alfred,16 and Modwenna loved her
greatly. One day it happened that Modwenna went far away to
pray and because she loved her very much, sent Osith to Edith
to take good care of her. She had been her companion for a
long time and she was very pleased and happy about her. After
a certain time had passed, Modwenna returned to her minster.
Edith had found a book full of proverbs and good sayings. She
found many examples there of miracles and holiness. She did
not want to hide this good thing for herself alone, but rather
to share it with Modwenna, but she did not want to entrust it to
a careless person who might easily damage it. She called Osith
sweetly: “My sister, would you please go to our mother Modwenna and take her this book for me? Tell her that great good
can be found in it by which she can edify herself and that from
the teachings she will find in it she can correct all her people.”
Osith obeyed and said that she would go willingly. She took the
book and didn’t delay at all, but hurried away. Thank God that
Edith did not know the adventure which would befall Osith
or she would not have let her go, I am sure, for all the gold of
King Midas. ——
her (Chronica majora, I, 447). Straneshale has never been satisfactorily identified: the
name closely resembles the Anglo-Saxon name for Abbess Hild’s monstery at Whitby
(Streaneshalch) but this is geographically impossible. The name is given as Trensale
(Trensall) in a seventeenth-century account transcribed by Dugdale (366), but no
community of this name is known.
Sister to King Alfred (Al rei Edfrid esteit seur 223): in most versions Edith is sister to
King Alfred (Bethell 1970a 84): in La Vie seinte Modwenne she is aunt to him and sister
of King Æthelwulf (Baker and Bell 87, vv. 2463, 2476). For a lucid summary of all the
Anglo-Saxon saints named Edith, see Blair 2002, s.v. Eadgyth, 527-28.
PLL 356
La Vie seinte Osith
Si Edith seust ke li avendreit,
Ceste eire emprendre ne li suffreit
Pur tut l’or ke seit en Espaine,
Ne pur l’onur de Lovaine.
Si Edith seu[s]t ke Osith est a venir,
Cest message ne li freit furnir,
Pur ce k’ot (ms eras.:-----) Salamon le sage
U Alisandre en tut son age.
Mes Deu li cela cest conseil,
Kar de Osith vot fere grant merveil.
Ivern ert [freid, e](ms eras.:-----) mut out pleu,
Pur ce la pucele n’est remansu;
A l’aube del jur en la matinee,
Errant se est acheminee;
Le livre prist e s’en ala
A Modwen u Edith l’enveia.
En cest chemin une ewe curreit,
U la damisele passer deveit;
Le punt fu lung e d’un sul tref,
Passer comensa pouruse e suef.
La rivere fu large e parfund,
[Fol. 136vb]
Et ele ert ja en mi le punt;
Le vent fu fort e mut bruant,
Les pans de son mantel despant,
Mes par les taches al col remist,
Et par les gerrons a sei le prist
Son mantel k’en le livre obli,
Ke de ses meins en l’ewe chai;
De cele perte fu esbai,
Al prendre s’abessa si le suivi;
Bien quida son livre aver receu,
Mes amdeuz l’ewe ad reteneu.
Loinz de cel liu les desaka
Et en une krenke les jeta
Bien treis arpenz loin del pont,
The Life of St Osith
PLL 357
If Edith had known what would happen to her, she would not
have allowed her to undertake this errand for all the gold in
Spain nor for all the honor of Louvain.17 Edith would never have
given her that message even for everything that king Solomon
the wise possessed, or Alexander in all his life-time, if she had
known what was going to happen to Osith. But God hid this
knowledge from her because he wanted to perform a miracle
through Osith. (183-266)
The winter was cold and it had rained a lot.18 For this reason
the girl did not delay, but set out at dawn in the morning. She
took the book and she set off for Modwenna to whom Edith
had sent her. Along the way a river flowed which the girl had
to cross. The bridge was long and only a single board in width.
She began to pass it timidly and fearfully. The river was wide and
deep. And when she had got to the middle of the bridge, the
wind was strong and very turbulent, and blew up the skirts of her
cloak, which remained attached at the neck by the fastenings.
She pulled the skirts of her cloak around her and in doing so,
she forgot about her book which fell out of her hands into the
water. She was dismayed by that loss; she leaned over to get it
and followed it into the water. She thought she could rescue her
book, but the water took them both. It carried them far off from
that place and cast them into a crevice a good three furlongs19
from the bridge; ——
Thank God that Edith did not know …. Alexander in all his life-time(Ha, Deu! Ke Edith ne
seust…. Alisandre en tut son age 253-64): no other life of Osith or Modwenna includes comparable rhetorical flourishes. The repeated figures here refocus the incident to make it Osith’s
rather than Modwenna’s. William de Vere, author of a lost life of Osith probably known at
Chich, grew up in the court of Henry I and Adeliza of Louvain (Barrow 175-76): the other
figures used here are more standard. For a comparable rhetorical topos see Shepherd.
The winter was cold (Ivern ert [freid e] 267): there is an erasure in this line: the
reading is an editorial reconstruction.
Three furlongs (treis arpenz 291): a measure of land of about an acre. ‘Furlong’ is not
strictly equivalent (OED s.v. arpent, furlong) but is a measure of a plowed strip of land.
PLL 358
La Vie seinte Osith
Les graventa en un parfunt,
La jurent amdeuz treis jurs
Et treis nuiz sanz succurs;
La jurent treis jurs e treis nuiz
Si enfundré en un puiz;
Treis jurs e nuiz Osith i jut
Iloec neé en cel duit.
Issi Osith gesir larrum,
Et de sa dame nus cunterum.
Del quart jur s’esclarzi la matinee,
Edith s’est mut esmerveilliee
Ke fest Osith tant targer;
Dist k’ele irra l’encheson saver.
En son quer suffri grant batestal,
Bien leva devant le chant de gal,
Errant se mist a cheminal;
Modwen l’encuntre par esperital;
Si cum Edith aveit veu
Modwen silence ad derumpu;
[Fol. 137ra]
Bien par son semblant ad aparçu
Ke ele fu dolente e (ms eras.:u) irascu.
“Edith, bele seur, ke estes dolente?”
“Dame,” dit Edith, “Ore oez quei me turmente:
Damoisele Osith a vus enveiay,
Un livre portant ke mut amay,
Hui est le quart jur trespassant
Puis n’en oi mes ne cuntremant;
Dame, ke est ele demoré tant?”
Dist Modwen: “De ço ne soi rien avant.”
Si l’un’ e l’autre fu esbaye
Ceo demander serreit folie.
Pasturs furent leus delez,
Lur bestes pessanz par ces pres;
Les dames a eus sunt alez,
Aprés saluz unt demandez:
The Life of St Osith
PLL 359
it hurled them into a deep hole. They both lay there for three days
and three nights without any help, thrust into a pit. Three days
and nights Osith lay there, drowned in this stream. (267-298)
We will let Osith lie there and tell of her mistress. From the
dawn of the fourth day, Edith greatly wondered what made Osith
so late. She said that she would go to find out the reason. She
suffered a great turmoil in her heart. She got up well before
the cock crowed and set out quickly. By divine guidance, Modwenna met her. When she had seen Edith, Modwenna broke
the silence. She could clearly see from her appearance that she
was upset and worried. “Edith, dear sister, what is the matter?”
“Lady,” said Edith, “now you will hear what is troubling me. I
sent Mademoiselle Osith to you, bringing a book which I loved
greatly. Today is the fourth day that has passed without either
a messenger or an explanation. Lady, why has she delayed so
long?” Modwenna replied, “I know nothing of this.” Both of
them were dismayed: it would be foolish to ask why! There were
some shepherds nearby who were pasturing their animals in the
meadows there. The women went to them and, after greeting
them, asked: ——
PLL 360
“Amis, ke Deu vus doint sauveté,
Ceo dunt vus prium diez verité,
Veistes une damoisele al punt aler,
A la matinee li tierz jur fu er,
Afublé out un neir mauntel?”
A ceo dient li pasturel:
“Une tele pucele cum vus querez,
Hui est quart jur veimes assez,
Amunt sur la chausé passer,
Jeske al punt veimes aler,
Mes kar a nos bestes entendium,
Plus n’en seumes, en fei vus dium.”
Lors ke neé fust suscherent
Les dames, e al punt repeirerent;
Amedeuz se mistrent en oreison,
Ou plurs, ou grant devotion,
Ke Deu lur deignast le cors mustrer,
Ke suveus le puissent enterrer.
Primes sa preere Modwen fina,
A pont Osith deuz feiz clama:
“Damoisele Osith, venez hors
Ke veer puissum vostre cors;
A ceo vus doint force e vigur
Ke Lazre suscita al tirz jur.”
A peine out Modwen sa voiz fini
Ke de l’euue Osith ne issi
Neste e secke, son livre ausi,
Et dist: “Dame, veez moi ci.”
Si cum del tut fu virgine pure,
Son livre e li sunt sanz muilliure.
Ha Deu! ky pust esgarder
Quel joie les dames vunt demener,
Tut le mund dust refuser
Ki ces treis pust bien aviser.
La Vie seinte Osith
[Fol. 137rb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 361
“Friends, may God give you health, please tell us the truth about
this. Did you see a girl dressed in a black cloak cross the bridge
in the morning three days ago?” The shepherds said, “We did
see a girl like the one you’re asking about up on the road—this
is now the fourth day since then. We saw her go as far as the
bridge, but because we were busy with our animals we can’t tell
you anything more.” (299-339)
Since the two women thought that she had drowned, they
returned to the bridge. Both began to pray with tears and great
devotion that God would consent to reveal to them the body so
that they could at least bury it. Modwenna finished her prayer
first. At the bridge she called Osith twice: “Mademoiselle Osith,
come out so that we can see your body. May he who raised Lazarus
on the third day give you strength and vigor for this.” Hardly had
Modwenna finished when Osith came out of the water, neat and
dry, and her book too, and said, “Lady, see me here.” Because
she was a pure virgin, both she and her book were without any
moisture.20 I swear by God, anyone who had seen the joy these
women showed would have rejected all the world if he had been
able carefully to observe these three. ——
Her book … without any moisture (Son livre … sanz muilliure 356): For a similar
miracle concerning Margaret Queen of Scotland (d. 1093) and her Gospel book
(still extant as Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Latin liturgical f5), see Forbes-Leith:
for Margaret’s vita see the translation by Huneycutt ch. 25 (175).
PLL 362
La Vie seinte Osith
Modwen Osith ad a sei prise,
Tant cum vesqui li est remise;
Tant cum Modwen fu en vie
De li Osith ne fu partie.
Ke ja ne seit celee cest miracle,
Cum Osith en l’euue out habitacle,
L’euue ou Osith fu neé
Tut dis puis en ad renumee;
Ke jamés en secle ne seit celé (ms: celee),
Le liu Nunnepol (ms: uinnepol) est apellé (ms: apelee);
Ke dunc fust nunein ne di pas,
Kar l’en le tendreit a folie e gas
Si dunc fust nonein velee
Ne fust aprés reine espusee.
Assez a[y] dist de cest veage,
Ore vus dirrai del mariage.
[Fol. 137va]
Kant Modwen fu en cel mene[e],
Frethuuald sa fillie ad repelle[e].
Lé sunt e joius tuit li parent
De sa porture e enseinement;
Tuit fu son purpos e desir
Virgine vivre e morir,
En quel change serra martir.
De cest purpos n’est ensensé
Son pere, pur ceo se est purpensé
De Osith, k’il la volt marier (ms: marcer)
A poestif homme le rei Syer.
Seint’ Osith en est anguisuse,
Pensive en quer e doleruse.
Mes al pere de ceo n’est rien,
Que que li seit, [eu] mal eu bien,
N’i ad rien d’escusatiun,
Faire l’estuet eu voillie eu nun.
Li rei fet mander ses amis,
Baruns e cuntes del pais,
The Life of St Osith
PLL 363
Modwenna hugged Osith and she remained with her for the rest
of Modwenna’s life. As long as Modwenna was alive, Osith was
never separated from her. May this miracle never be hidden, how
Osith had a dwelling place in the water. The river where Osith
was drowned has been famous ever since, so that it may never
be hidden from the world. The place is called Nunpool.21 (I do
not mean to say that she was a nun at that time: people would
consider it folly and mockery if she were then a veiled nun and
afterwards also became a married queen.) (340-374)
I have said enough about this journey. Now I will tell you
about the marriage. When Modwenna was taken up to heaven,
Fredewald called his daughter back to him. All her relatives
were happy and pleased with her behavior and education. Her
whole desire and intention were to live and die a virgin (in which
exchange she will be a martyr.)22 Her father was not aware of
this intention. Therefore he decided that he wanted to marry
Osith to a powerful man, King Sighere.23 St Osith was greatly
anguished, full of care in her heart and sorrowful. But this was
nothing to her father: however she might feel about it, whether
happy or sad, there was no excuse. She had to do it, willingly or
not. The king sent for his friends, for barons and counts from the
Nunpool (Nunnepol 370): the site remains unidentified. The river is given as the
Anker (Staffordshire) in most other versions of Osith’s life.
In which exchange she will be a martyr (En quel change serra martir 383): this line is
one of three lines on the same rhyme and may be an insertion or may lack the other
half of the couplet.
King Sighere (le rei Syer 387): Sighere, seventh-century King of the East Saxons and
apostate from Christianity to paganism according to Bede, HE iii, 30, 322).
PLL 364
Et chivalers e autre gent,
Pur lur conseil communalment.
Al rei Syer ad fet doner
Osith sa filie, e espuser
Solunc l’agard ke fu asis
En icel tens en lur pais.
yer le rey sa femme ameine,
Ele out au quer dolur e peine,
E Deu requert omnipotent
Ou lermes mut espessement,
Ke ja ne li seit violé
Ceo que peça li out voé,
Sun pucelage li purgart
Ke ne perde ne tost ne tart;
Mes si cum se est a lui donee,
Bien li puisse estre gardee.
Le jur ke seint’ Osith alat,
Kant li rey Syer l’enmenat,
Witburg sa mere al departir
Deuz homes fist ou li venir,
Ke Dampnedeu aveient cher,
Ententif mut a sun mester.
Prestres esteient ordenez,
Et seinz eveskes puis sacrez,
Bedewin out li un a nun,
Ecca li autre compaignun.
La reine ad a ceus liveree
Osith [sa] fillie e comandee,
Pur li garder en dreite fey,
En dreit amur e en sa ley.
i reis Syer ses noces tint
Si cum a rei plus bel covint;
E les plus hauz de son regné
Le jur i aveient ensemblé,
Mut se penat de tuz heiter.
La Vie seinte Osith
[Fol. 137vb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 365
region, and knights and other people, for their agreement. He
gave his daughter Osith to King Sighere in marriage according
to the custom of their country at that time. (375-401)
ing Sighere took his wife away with him. She had pain and
suffering in her heart and prayed with abundant tears to
God almighty that what she had vowed to him some time
ago would never be broken, that he would safeguard her virginity
for her so that she would never ever lose it, and that, since she
had given herself to God, she would be saved for him. On the day
that St Osith left, when king Sighere took her away, Withburga,
her mother, on her departure, sent with her two men who loved
God and were very devout in his service. They were ordained
priests and later were consecrated as bishops. Bedwin was the
name of one and his companion was called Acca.24 The queen
entrusted her daughter Osith to them and commanded them to
preserve her in the true faith in righteous love and in God’s law.
ing Sighere held his wedding as was fitting for an important
king and he assembled the leading people of his kingdom
and took care that all should enjoy themselves. ——
Bedwin … Acca (Bedewin … Ecca 420-21): subsequently bishops of Dunwich and
Elmham respectively (Bede, HE iv, 6, 354, n. 1).
PLL 366
La Vie seinte Osith
La nuit quant vunt puis a cocher,
Sa femme ad fet tost demander
Ke tant al quer puet desirer.
Kant seint’ Osith out la novele
A Dieu ceo dist: “La vostre ancele
Pur vostre nun ore defendez,
Le vostre poer i mettez,
Ge i mettrai trestut le mien
Ke ne seie pur nule rien
Hunye a nuit ne violee;
E quant me sui a vous donee,
Defendez moy cum vostre amye
Ke ne seie a nuit honye.”
tant si est avant venue,
Si tost cum li rois l’ad veue
Mut la coveite, mut la desire,
Et seint’ Osith li dist: “Beau sire,
Pur Deu merci, kar m’entendez,
Et aukes de respit me donez;
De ceste assemblé entre nus
Dunt vus estes tant desirus,
Respit vus requer, sire rey,
Si ja voilliez joir de mey.”
Cil la ne vout pur rien oir
Mes tut dis tire a son desir.
Cele pur rien ke sace dire,
Par boneirté plus ke pur ire,
Ne vout faire ne consentir
A son talent n’a son pleisir.
Mut requert termes e respiz
Mes il le fait mut a envis;
Et nequedent tant l’ad lutié (ms: lutiee),
Requis mut et travaillié (ms: trauailliee)
Par la vertu del Seint Esperit
Ke l’ovre est mis en respit;
[Fol. 138ra]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 367
When night came and time to go to bed, he at once asked for his
wife, whom he so much desired in his heart. When St Osith heard
the news, she said to God: “Now defend your handmaiden for
the sake of your name. Exert your power so that, as long as I do
my best, I shall not be in any way shamed or violated this night.
And since I have given myself to you, defend me as someone you
love, so that I may not be shamed this night.” (426-443)
he came forward. As soon as the king saw her, he greatly
desired and lusted for her. St Osith said to him: “Dear lord,
for the love of God, listen to me and give me some respite
from this union between us which you desire so much. I ask
you for a small delay, lord King, if you ever wish to enjoy me.”
He didn’t want to listen to her at all but continued to pursue
his desire. She, using anything she could think of to say, but
speaking pleasantly rather than in anger, would not consent to
his desire or his pleasure. She urgently requested terms and a
respite, but he accepted this very unwillingly, and she continued
nevertheless to resist him so much, pressing her request, and
pleading through the power of the Holy Spirit, that the time
was put off.25 ——
She continued nevertheless to resist him, pressing her request and pleading (Et
nequedent tant l’ad lutié,/Requis mut et travaillié 462-63): the manuscript has feminine
endings for the past participles (lutiee… travaillee), but retains the masculine for requis
and elsewhere exhibits some confusion of ee/é. The emendations adopted here make
the subject of the sentence Osith, giving readier sense than if it were Sighere.
PLL 368
Deus l’ad gardé omnipotent,
Unc ne l’aprocha charnelement.
E gueres plus ne demora
Ke il autre feiz la resona
K’a li se vout assembler,
Respit ne vout mes doner.
Mes seint’ Osith cria merci
A Dampnedeu tut autresi
Cum aveit ele fet devant
Ke par son nun l’ert defendant.
Le reis comence a losenger,
E tel ovre est, a coroucer;
Mes tant a purchacé e quis
E tant feit entre giu e ris,
De jur en jur est purloinié,
Charnelement ne ad aproché.
Soventefeiz l’ad envaie,
Mes Dampnedeu garda s’amie,
Ke ou son barun maneit issi
Virgine treis anz e demi.
n jur aprés issi avint
Li reis Syer sa feste tint
Ke il fist de sa nativité;
Grant poeple i out assemblé,
Contes, barons e chivalers,
Ses frankeleins e ses terrers.
Le jur quant il aveit mangé,
Et sunt partut joius e lé,
Et il meimes bien enbeverez
En la chambre est tut dreit alez,
Et s’i cuche sur son lit;
Kant reposé se est un petit
Sa femme fet a ly venir,
Si la comence en lit gisir,
La Vie seinte Osith
[Fol. 138rb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 369
Almighty God protected her and Sighere never managed to approach her in a carnal way. And hardly any time passed before
he began arguing with her again because he wanted to sleep
with her. He didn’t want to grant her any further reprieve. But
St Osith cried to God for mercy just as she had done before, that
he would defend her for his name’s sake. The king began first to
flatter, and then to become angry. But she exerted herself and
pleaded so much and between game and laughter said enough
so that from day to day he was put off. He never approached her
carnally. He often wanted to, but God protected his beloved, so
that she lived in this way as a virgin with her husband for three
and a half years. (444-485)
ne day after this it happened that King Sighere held his
birthday feast. He had assembled many people: counts,
barons, and knights, his franklins and his landholders.
That day, when he had eaten and everybody was merry and glad
and he himself had drunk well, he went straight to his chamber
and lay down on his bed. When he had rested a bit he sent for
his wife and began to lie with her in his bed. ——
PLL 370
La Vie seinte Osith
Bien entrussement li dist,
Mes ne li durra respit.
Kant seint’ Osith icest entent,
Plure des oilz mut tendrement
Et vers le ciel lasus garda,
Et Dampnedeu mut reclama,
Ke par la sue grant vertu,
G[a]rant li seit en bon escu.
Li reis se peine mut forment
[Fol. 138va]
De son bon fere e sun talent,
E ele a trestut son poer
Se tint contre l’ardent voler,
Me[s] come ele plus se defent
Cil se deve e plus esprent,
De son bon fere met pur veir
Tute sa force e son poeir,
E jure asez e dist le bien
Son cuntredit ne li vaut rien.
n ceste anguisse u ele esteit
E la dolur ke ele a quer aveit
Seint’ Osith ententivement
Reclama Deu omnipotent,
E dist: “Sire Deu, vostre aye,
Ceste ancele n’obliez mye,
Tantes feiz m’avez sucuru,
E mun cors, Sire, defendu;
A ceste feiz, Sire, me sucurez,
Des maus a cestui me delivrez
Sanz enfreindre la veray voé.
Si vus promet pur verité
(528-29 inverted by ed.)
Si vus a ceste feiz aydez
Pur mei succure e travailliez,
Puis ceste hure mettrai pur veir
Tute ma force e mun poeir
Ke mes travail n’averez en pose
De mei ayder pur cele chose.”
The Life of St Osith
PLL 371
He told her very firmly that he would never again grant her any
delay. When St Osith heard that, she wept very piteously and
looked up to heaven and called fervently to God to protect and
shield her by his great power. The king tried with all his might
to have his will of her and she, with all her might, defended
herself against his ardent desire. But the more she defended
herself, the more he became maddened and inflamed. He used
all his force and strength to have his will of her and swore many
times and said clearly that her resistance counted for nothing
with him. (486-517)
n such straits as she was, and with pain in her heart, St Osith
called on God almighty and said, “Lord God, give me your
aid. Do not forget this maiden. Many times you have helped
me and defended my body, lord. This time, lord, help me and
free me from the evil of this man, so that I do not break my
true oath.26 I promise you truly that if you help me this time,
from this hour onwards I will truly apply all my strength and my
power so that you will never again have to trouble to help me
in this matter.”(518-535)
So that I do not break my true oath … I promise you truly (Sanz enfreindre la veray
voé / Si vus promet pur verité 528-29): the lines make poor sense in their order in the
manuscript and have been inverted by the editor.
PLL 372
La Vie seinte Osith
ant seint’ Osith aveit dit tant,
Este vus une noyse mut grant,
Ke en cele sale est ja levee;
La gent laenz se desree
E haut e bas communaument
Crient e huchent durement,
E vers la chambre vunt criant,
Li un ariere, li autre avant.
“A Deu,” funt il, “li reis u est?
Allas, ke il ne set cest
Ke hui en cest jur est avenu!
Mut se tenist a deceu
Si il sust ceste aventure,
Kant venu n’i est a dreit’ hure!”
y reis escute e entent
La grant noyse ke funt sa gent,
Coment le vunt tut demandant.
E il s’en turne maintenant,
E vers l’uis de la sale vait
Pur saver mun quele noise i ait;
E puis ke il lur ad demandé
Delivrement li unt cunté
Cum faitement un poy devant
Un cerfs tut blanc i vint currant,
Ke de la mer tut dreit veneit
Et si curut a grant espleit
La hors u bien esteit veus
Par les braches e les seus,
U tut esturent a lur past,
Si cum les chiens rien ne dotast.
E li brachet trestuz cuplé
E li seuz entremedlé,
Li autre chien petit e grant,
A fort espleit le vunt suivant.
[Fol. 138vb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 373
ust as St Osith had finished saying this, there arose a great
noise in the hall. The people there were in great confusion:
everyone, high and low together, called out and yelled loudly
and ran shouting towards the bedchamber, some in front and
others behind. “God!” they said, “Where is the king? Alas that
he does not know what has happened today! He would hold
himself cheated for not coming out at the right time if he knew
about this adventure.” (536-549)
he king listened and heard the great clamor his people
were making, and how they all asked for him, and he turned
and went towards the door of the chamber to find out what
the noise was about. And after he asked them, they quickly told
him how, a little before, a white stag had come running directly
from the sea, and how it ran very fast out in the open where it
was seen by the hounds and hunting dogs where they were all
at their meal, as if the stag did not fear the dogs at all. And all
the leashed brachets and the other hunting dogs with them,
and all the other dogs both large and small, went running after
it at great speed. ——
PLL 374
La Vie seinte Osith
Ky ke pout unkes cheval aver,
Aprés s’en est alé pur ver,
E que cheval n’en aveit prest,
Tut a pié alé s’en est.
uant li reis ad iceo oy,
[Fol. 139ra]
“Ostez,” ceo dit, “trop ai dormi!
Ça, mun cheval delivrement!”
E il ne s’est targié nient,
Ainz comande trestuz munter
E sei meimes fet aprester,
Puis est munté maintenant
E vait le cerf a plein suivant.
i cerfs s’en (ms: cen) vait ou grant bandon,
Li reis aprés e cist baron;
Current li chien a grant espleit,
Deske li cerf est venu tut dreit
Deske a un bras parfund de mer,
U ne soleit nuls hom passer,
Kar l’euue esteit redde e parfunde.
Li cerf s’est mis tut dreit en l’unde.
Cel bras de mer li paisant
Cattewade vunt apellant.
Li cerf en l’euue noe amunt,
Les chiens anguissus sunt,
Crient e funt noise mut grant.
A nou le vunt a plein suivant,
Li reis en est mut anguissus,
Del cerf prendre mut desirus,
Kar unkes ne vit nul jur
Cerf ne bisse de sa blanchur.
Il vait puignant par cel sablon,
Hurte chival des esporun,
Coment chevache ne li chuet,
En braz de mer parfund se met,
The Life of St Osith
PLL 375
Indeed anyone there who could get a horse followed it, and
those who didn’t have a horse ready went running on foot.
hen the king heard this, he said, “Away! I’ve slept too
much. My horse, quick!” He didn’t wait at all. He commanded all to mount and got himself ready. Then he
mounted immediately and went to follow the stag. (574-581)
he stag fled headlong with the king and his men chasing
after it. The dogs were running rapidly and the stag came
to a deep arm of the sea where no man was used to crossing because the water was rough and deep. The stag plunged
straight into the sea. The inhabitants call this arm of the sea
Cattawade. The stag swam in the current; the dogs were highly
excited. Baying and making a great deal of noise, they followed
it. The king was very anxious, very desirous of taking the stag,
because he had never before that day seen a stag or hind of
such whiteness. He went galloping along the beach, pricking
his horse with his spurs. How he rode didn’t matter to him. He
plunged into the arm of the sea. ——
PLL 376
La Vie seinte Osith
Red e parfund esteit li guez,
Devant ceo n’ert unc mes passez
Par home a chival ne a pié,
Trestut primes l’ad asaié.
[Fol. 139rb]
L’ure quant sunt li chien passé
Estoit li reis parfund en gué;
Mes le cheval iert fort e bon,
Tut sulement se met a port.
y cerf a plein en chemin entre
E vunt li chien currant sur ventre,
E li reis vient aprés puigniant,
Ses chiens a plein esbaudissant.
Mes li cerf n’est unkes restuz,
Dekes Donewiz est dreit venuz,
Iluec s’est mis en cele mer.
Li rei se peine del haster,
Mes n’i put unc si tost venir,
Pur rien [ne] put le cerf choisir.
Ne set coment s’en est partiz
Kar de ses oilz est evaniz.
Les chiens esteient tut asoté,
E sus e jus unt resgardé.
Ore penst d’autre cerf li reis,
Kar ne verra cesti del meis.
ant cum li reis vait demorant,
E ou ses chiens le cerf suivant,
Seint’ Osith n’ad pas oblié
En quel pour aveit esté.
Ainz dist ke mes ne targera
De ceo ke out enpensé peça.
Coment ke li plai pust se prendre, (ms: pus se prenge)
A Dampnedeu se voudra rendre.
Puis en aprés la Deu ancele
Tuit en secrei a sei apelle
Seint Ecca e seint Bedewin,
The Life of St Osith
PLL 377
The crossing was deep and rough. Before that, it had never
been crossed by a man either on foot or on horseback. He was
the first to try. When the dogs had got across, the king found
himself deep in the middle of the ford. But the horse was good
and strong and reached the shore on its own. (582-611)
he stag went running along the path, and the hounds went
running after it as fast as they could, flat to the ground. The
king came riding behind, encouraging his dogs. But the
stag never stopped until it came to Dunwich. There it plunged
into the sea. The king tried hard to hurry, but he couldn’t get
there quickly enough. He could not see the stag at all. He didn’t
understand how it had gone, but it had vanished from his sight.
The dogs were confused, looking this way and that. Now the
king had better think about other stags, because he will never
see this one again. (612-627)
hile the king was delayed following the stag with his
dogs, St Osith had not forgotten how frightened she
had been, rather she told herself that she would not
put off any longer what she had made up her mind to do a little
while before. However their disagreement might resolve itself,
she would want to give herself to God. Shortly after this, God’s
handmaiden called St Acca and St Bedwin to her, ——
PLL 378
La Vie seinte Osith
E si lur dist, le chief enclin:
“Seigniurs, ore m’escutez ici,
Pur amur Deu merci vus cri,
Pensez de mei conseil doner:
Eu mund ne voudray plus ester,
Ne mes suffrir le grant ennui;
En cel habit u ore sui,
Jeo voil ke le veil me donez,
Pur nule rien me ne targez;
Jeo l’ay tut prest ci ou mei,
Prendre le voil en bone fei.”
Cil responent: “Dame, merci,
Nus ne l’osum pas fere issi
Kar vus estes joint a seigniur,
Coment k’entre nus seit l’amur
Par nostre asenz n’osum pas
Muer a vus l’abit des dras;
Mes si vus plest, dame, suffrez,
A ceo purrez venir assez;
N’osum tele chose uncore enprendre,
Deske en avant bien est d’atendre.”
E seint’ Osith requert assez
Pur Deu amur les ordenez,
Ke il fac[ent] ceo ke lur ad dist
Mes il li unt tut escundist;
E quant la dame bien entent
Ke ne volent faire nient,
“Seigniurs,” ceo dit, “quant est issi,
Deu penst de mei par sa merci.”
Plus en aprés leva sa main
E treit le veil hors de son sein
E sur le auter offrir le vait,
Puis de sa main vers li le trait
E sur son chief le veil ad mis
E ataché e bien asis
[Fol. 139va]
[Fol. 139vb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 379
and saidto them, her head bowed:
“Sirs, listen to me here. For the love of God, I beg your mercy.
I need your advice. I no longer wish to live in the world, or suffer
its pains any longer in the clothing I currently wear. I want you
to give me the veil. By no means put me off: I have it all ready
here with me. I want to take it in good faith.”
They responded:
“Lady, mercy: we don’t dare to do it in this way, for you are
joined to a husband. For all the affection that there is between
us, we daren’t give our consent to changing your habit. But if
you will be patient, lady, you can achieve what you desire. We
do not yet dare to undertake such a thing since it is better to
wait a little.”
And St Osith pleaded greatly with the priests for the love of
God to do what she had asked them to, but they refused her
everything. When the lady realized that they did not intend to
do anything, she said:
“Sirs, since it is like this, may God think of me in his mercy.”
Then she lifted her hand, and took the veil out of her bosom
and went to offer it on the altar. Then, with her own hand, she
drew the veil towards herself and placed it on her head and
attached it and fixed it well ——
PLL 380
La Vie seinte Osith
E dit: “Dampnedeu tut puissant,
Cors e alme ci vus comant,
Si me gardez pur vostre nun,
Car n’ay d’autre guarisun.”
einte Osith ad cest ovre enpris
Ke sur son chief le veil ad mis.
Li rei vient ja de chacer
U gueres ne put espleiter.
A l’us de la sale decent,
Irus e plein de maltalent,
(682-83 inverted by ed.)
Car custume est, bien le savez,
Ke riche home coruce assez
Kant a sa beste avera failli,
E il refist tut autresi.
En la chambre est droit alé,
La reine ad tost demandé.
E ele vient en son neir veil:
Al rei en fremist chescun peil,
L’alme del cors pur poi s’en ist,
Tant s’emai, tant enpouerist.
E quant regart la couele bise,
A poy d’effrai le quer n’i brise.
Del cerf li membre ke il tant suivi,
Quide ke deable l’en a trai.
Mes quant se parceit de la reine,
De rampuner la ne fet traine:
Mut la comence a leidenger
Des paroles e a tencer;
Corucé e devé a desmesure,
Asez li dist, asez li jure,
Dist par serment e manascer,
Tut son engin n’avera mester,
[ . . . . . .]
Ne pura pas si enginnier.
[Fol. 140ra]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 381
and said: “Almighty and all powerful God, I commend my body
and soul to you. Protect me in your name, for I have no other
surety.” (628-677)
ust when St Osith had undertaken to place the veil on her own
head, the king returned from the hunt, where he had not been
successful, and dismounted at the hall door.27 He was angry and
full of bad temper, for it is usual, as you well know, for a rich man
to become very angry when he fails to capture his quarry, and just
so did the king. He went straight to his chamber and sent immediately for the queen. And she came in her black veil.28 The hair on
the king’s neck stood up. His soul nearly fled from his body out of
fright, so great was his dismay and alarm, and when he looked at
the brown cowl, his heart almost cracked for fear. He remembered
the stag which he had pursued so hard and thought that the devil
had taken it. But when he saw the queen, he did not delay in reviling her. He began vehemently to upbraid and reproach her. Angry
and furious beyond measure, he said and swore enough at her,
saying both as a threat and an oath that all her scheming would
be of no use [….],29 that she could not deceive him in this way.
Dismounted at the hall door … angry and full of bad temper (A l’us de la sale decent…
Irus e plein de maltalent 682-83): these lines have been reversed in the manuscript and
are re-ordered in the text and translation here.
In her black veil (En son neir veil 690): black was the standard colour of a nun’s
veil, and the habits of undyed cloth first worn by the Benedictines created a general
presumption for religious clothing to be of coarse brown, grey, or dark cloth. The
Augustinian canons and canonesses of the twelfth century wore a white surplice along
with their habit, though several sets of early thirteenth-century bishops’ injunctions
to St Osith’s at Chich suggest the canons were not all wearing garments of uniform
price and color (VCH Essex 158). In the extant (late thirteenth-century) manuscript
of La Vie seinte Osith, BL Addit. 70513, the opening illustration on f. 134va shows Osith
dressed in a brown tunic under a white-lined blue mantel with a white veil, while her
companion saints, Audrée and Modwenna, both Benedictine abbeses, wear black
and brown habits respectively (the latter with a white-lined overmantel): see Russell
2003, plates 5a and 6a for reproductions.
[706][….]: the rhyme suggests that a line has been omitted in the manuscript at
the bottom of f. 139vb, following line 705, though it is also possible that this may be
a triplet (cf vv. 381-83 and see notes 1 and 22 above).
PLL 382
La Vie seinte Osith
Mais ele li dist pur nient le fet,
Pur nul homme n’ert defet;
Dekes a Deu s’est si rendue,
Mes ne put li estre tollue;
Ainz voudra meuz la mort suffrir
Ke cest abit jamés guerpir.
demesure grant dolur
En fet li rei e nuit e jur;
Lesse son beivre e son manger,
Cum fu jadis custumer,
Ne put nuls hom a ly parler,
N’en la chambre gueres entrer.
Kant sa dolur ad fet asez
Ke tut put estre alessez,
Purpense sey a chef de tur
Ke rien ne vaut sa dolur,
Kant veit ke ne put estre muee,
A seinte Osith ad grantee,
Ke remaine tut autresi
En cel abit ke ele ad choisi;
S’il vei[s]t ke el estre peust,
Ja le congé par lui n’eust.
“Dame,” ceo dit il, “quant issi est
Ke jeo ne puis vus tollir icest,
Ceo peise mei estre mun gré,
Ore seit a vostre volunté.
Mes kant l’avét issi empris,
Des ore n’i ad en, ceo m’est avis;
Mes a ceste religion
Covent ke jeo mette mun don:
La vile Chich vus doins issi,
Kenelovedene tut autresi,
Tut ensement Hodefeld averez.
De ceo faites vos volentez,
Kar jeo vous bien frai estorer;
[Fol. 140rb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 383
But she told him that his threats were of no account, that her
action could not be undone for any man. Now that she had given
herself up to God, she could not be taken away from him: on
the contrary, she would rather suffer death than ever abandon
her habit. (678-713).
he king grieved out of measure day and night. He stopped
eating and drinking as he had been accustomed to do. Nor
could any man speak to him or even enter his chamber.
When he had mourned enough for everything to be somewhat
relieved, he thought finally that nothing was worth all that grief.
When he saw that nothing could be changed, he gave his permission to St Osith to remain as she was, in the habit she had
chosen. If he had seen that it could have been otherwise, she
would never have had his leave. (714-730)
“Lady,” he said, “although it grieves me that I can’t persuade
you to remove the veil from yourself, let it now be as you wish.
Since you have undertaken this, from now on there’s nothing left
to do about it, in my opinion: but it is fitting that I should make
my gift to this religion. So I give you the town of Chich and also
Kelvedon as well, and you shall also have Hatfield.30 Do what you
will with these, because I will have them well endowed for you.
Kelvedon … Hatfield (Kenelovedene … Hodefeld 739-740): Baker suggests Colchester,
the Roman Camulodunum (Baker 1911, 491, n. to vv. 738-39); Bethell argues for
Kelvedon or Kelvedon Hatch in Essex (Bethell 1970a, 87-88, n. 3). Hodefeld is possibly Hatfield Broad Oak or Hatfield Peverel, which were sites of subsequent de Vere
foundations in Essex (Bethell 1970a, 88).
PLL 384
E estre ceo vus voil doner
De checun conte e de baron
La secunde fillie par non,
De tant cum ad en mun regné;
E puis a vostre volenté
Ensemble ou vus serrunt veleez,
E en religiun doneez.”
Si cum il dist issi l’ad fet,
E seinte Osith mut tost s’en vet
Pur sa meisun faire aturner
U deit, pur Deu servir, rester.
Aprester fait delivrement
Des offices ceo ke apent;
Les damiseles sunt mande[e]z
E de par Deu mut tost veleez;
Ou seinte Osith remises sunt
E tut guerpi l’onur del mund,
A Deu servunt devotement,
E mut i vivent seintement.
prés lung tens avint issi,
Cum vus avez asez oi,
Des ces paens Deus enemis
Ke ja vindrent en cest pais
De Danemarche lur dreit curs,
Gent haye de pute murs,
Ki sunt venu par dreit fuire,
Pur crestiens partut destruire.
Li deuz tyranz ki unt mené
Ynguar e Ubba sunt nomé;
Les crestiens vunt destruant,
Chasteus e viles asegant,
N’en pernent autre rançun
De crestien for le chef nun.
Cil deuz tyranz pur verité,
Seint Edmund unt decolé,
La Vie seinte Osith
[Fol. 140va]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 385
And this done, I will give you the second daughter by name of
every count and baron in my kingdom. And at your wish, they shall
be veiled together with you and given to religion.” (731-749)
As he said, so did he do. And St Osith left promptly to make
her house ready, where she would have to remain to serve God.
She speedily prepared everything necessary for its various offices. The maidens were sent for and very soon veiled for God;
they remained with St Osith, and she completely abandoned
the honor of the world. They served God devotedly and lived
very holy lives. (750-761)
fter a long time it happened, as you have often heard, that
God’s enemies, the pagans, who had already been to this
country, took their way from Denmark. They were hateful
people of terrible customs, who came here to flee justice and to
destroy all the Christians. The two tyrants who led them were
called Hubba and Yngvar. They destroyed Christians and besieged
castles and towns; they took no other ransom for Christians except
their heads. These two tyrants in fact beheaded St Edmund.31
St Edmund (Seint Edmund 777): Edmund King of East Anglia (841-69), martyred
in Suffolk by the invading Danish army led by Ingvar and Hubba and patron saint of
the large Benedictine male monastery of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.
PLL 386
E puis comencent a errer
Par la costere de la mer,
E en viles entrent partut
E ocient le gent a but,
Ardent les eglises a plein,
Tuent les prestres de lur mein,
Robent la gent, funt envayes
Partut la u trouvent abeies;
Le fu i metent de lur mains,
Moines ocient e noneines,
U k’il viengent, ceo saciez bien,
A destruire ne lessent rien,
E en lur nef entrent aprés.
Par cele mer vunt adés,
Tant unt nagé, tant unt siglé,
Ke pres de Chich sunt araié,
E puis sailliunt sur cel gravier,
Le pais vunt tut enchercher,
Pur quere cristiene gent,
K’a quer heent trop cruelement.
einte Osith fu le jur alee
Si cum esteit acustumee,
A une secree fontaine
Quatre meschines ou sei meine,
Pur sei laver sunt alees
E li paen les unt trovees;
N’entendirent pas lungement
Ainz decolent communaument
Seinte Osith ke unt trové ci
E les autres ensemble ou li.
Mes Seinte Osith tut erranment
Son chief entre ses mains prent,
Si cum n’eut anguisse eue,
Tant veit k’al muster est venue;
La Vie seinte Osith
[Fol. 140vb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 387
Then they began to travel along the sea coasts and they went
into villages everywhere and killed the people without hesitation. They burned many churches and killed the priests with
their own hands. They robbed the people and made attacks
wherever they found abbeys. They fired them with their own
hands and killed monks and nuns. Wherever they went, you
may be sure, they left nothing to be destroyed. Then they went
back to their ships and went elsewhere. Advancing down that
coast, they sailed and navigated so far that they drew up near
Chich. Then they leapt out onto the shingle and went searching
through the countryside to look for Christian people, whom
they cruelly hated in their hearts. (762-797)
hat day, as was her custom, St Osith had gone to a secret
spring, taking four young girls with her. They had gone
there to bathe. And the pagans found them. They didn’t wait
long. On the contrary, they beheaded them all together, St Osith
whom they found there, and the others with her. But St Osith immediately picked up her head in her hands, as if she had not suffered any harm, and went along until she came to her monastery.
PLL 388
La Vie seinte Osith
La fontaine dunt ele est alee
A deuz quarenteines de veiee
E plus est loinz de cel muster,
A dreite veie u a sentier,
U seinte Osith son chief porta.
L’us del muster puis entra,
De ses mains l’ad ensenglanté
Dunt ele aveit son chef porté.
L’enseigne fu apert’ e grant,
E lung tens puis aparissant,
E si raveit tut ensement
En nostre tens asez [de] gent
Ke l’us virent ensenglanté (ms: ensenglantee)
Par ki savum la verité (ms: veritee).
Seinte Osith n’est unkes arestue,
Dekes a l’auter est dreit venue,
E de son chef i fet present
A Dampnedeu omnipotent,
A ly del tut s’est comandee
Pur ki amur fu decolee,
E puis repeire belement
E entre pilers se estent
En presbiterie del muster,
E ses meins comence a drecer
Vers Dampnedeu son creatur
Pur ky suffri mort e dolur.
Torne[e] dreit vers l’orient,
A Dampnedeu l’esperit rent.
[Fol. 141ra]
eignurs, ore avez bien oy
De la vie seinte Osith ci,
Coment pur Deu guerpi le mund
E les richesces ke ici sunt
Pur trover joie pardurable
Ke a tut dis ert estable.
Trové l’ad finablement.
The Life of St Osith
PLL 389
Whether by the road or as the crow flies, the fountain she had gone
to was two leagues and more away from the monastery where St
Osith carried her head. She went in the door of the church. She
bloodied it with her hands, which had blood from her head on
them. The sign was large and clear,32 and visible for a long time
afterwards, and just so in our time too, the bloody door has been
seen by plenty of people through whom we know the truth. St
Osith did not stop until she came to the altar and made a present
of her head to Almighty God; she commended herself wholly to
him, for whose love she had been beheaded. And then she went
back, and, standing between some pillars in the presbytery of the
church, she raised her hands to God her creator, for whom she
suffered pain and death, and turned directly towards the east,
and rendered up her soul to God. (798-839)
ords, you have now heard about the life of St Osith here,
how she abandoned the world for God and left the riches
that exist here to find lasting joy that will endure forever.
She found it in the end. ——
The sign was large and clear (L’enseigne fu apert’ e grant 820): compare Christina of
Markyate who marks a cross on the church door of St Albans and next day offers an
oblatory penny at the altar before dedicating herself to Christ (Talbot 40-41). Thomas
Head argues that these actions (which have parallels both to Osith’s bloody marking of her church and her self-veiling at lines 668-677 above) constitute betrothal to
Christ (1990, 81; 2005, 120).
PLL 390
La Vie seinte Osith
Sachez ke n’en dotum nent,
Kar Deu le rey de majesté
Apertement l’ad ci mustré
Par miracles gentils e granz
Ke pur ly fet aparissanz.
Fort serreit tut a [ra]cunter,
Mes partie volum mustrier,
U vus porrez tres bien oir
Ke a Dampnedeu fet a servir,
Ky leaument le servira
Sanz guerdon ne s’en irra.
cum nus avum pur veir oy,
Acune feiz avint issy
Ke grant tempeste out en la mer,
Horriblement la fist emfler,
Jeter guages e verser undes
Leides, horribles e parfundes.
Ky dunc i furent, bien vus jur,
N’esteient pas del tut seur.
En grant houré de la tempeste
K’en mer feseit si grant moleste,
Par la tormente sunt chaciez
Nefs estranges e travailliez;
Une horé aval, un’ autre amunt,
Tant cum tut dreit venues sunt
En cel havene, puis al drein
A seinte Osith le plus prochein.
Les mariners i unt ancré (ms: ancree),
Sigle abatu e bien teoldé (ms: teoldee),
Ilokes vunt cum est custume,
De tens attendent suautume;
En havene sunt bien lungement
Pur atendre le prospre vent,
E vunt tel hore est a la terre
Pur vitaille e garison quere;
[Fol. 141rb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 391
You should know that we have no doubt about any of this, because God, the king of majesty, has clearly shown it to us here by
noble and great miracles that he openly manifested for her. It
would be too much to tell them all, but we want to reveal a part
to you in which you can very clearly hear that we ought to serve
God and that whoever loyally serves him will never be without
a reward. (840-857)
s we have heard in truth, at one time it happened that there
was a great storm at sea that made the ocean swell terribly,
hurling waves and pouring billows of water, threatening,
horrible, and deep. Those who were out there, I can assure you,
were not at all safe. At the height of the storm which was causing so much disturbance on the sea, foreign ships were driven
along and belabored by the tempest, now down, now up, until
finally they came directly to this harbor, the closest to St Osith.
The sailors anchored there, lowered the sails and furled them.
They went in there, as is the custom, to await milder weather.
They were in the harbor a long time waiting for a favorable wind,
and they went to shore from time to time to look for provisions
and shelter. ——
PLL 392
La Vie seinte Osith
A seinte Osith revunt suvent
A oreisuns ou autre gent.
n jur i vunt les mariners,
Ly envoisez, les juvencels,
Si cum esteient custumer
E pur orer vunt al muster.
A ceo ke aukes i unt esté
E sus e jus partut alé,
Li uns de eus cum esteit alant
Trove un marbre gisant:
Pres deuz espaunes de lungur
E pleine paume out de laur.
E cil la prist deliverement
Si l’enporta tut belement,
E si comence a purpenser
K’en son pais la vout porter,
E pense bien k’en son muster
Al pais doner avera mester.
Le marbre porte si s’en vait
Vers la marine tut dreit,
Entre sa nef de meintenant,
E del marbre ne fet semblant,
A compaignon mot ne sona,
Kar plai n’en tint, bien le mustra.
tant es vus si unt vent
Dreit e portant a talent:
Drecent lur mast e cordes tendent
E le wydas partut amendent
E puis unt trait lur sigle amunt,
Ancre sakent, si s’en vunt.
De cele nef oir porrez
U li marbre fu enz portez:
Kant li autre vunt herneschant
E lur aferes adrescant,
E s’atournent e la e ci,
[Fol. 141va]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 393
They often returned to St Osith, to attend prayers along with
other people. (858-883)
ne day the sailors went there to amuse themselves with
the young people, as was their custom, and to pray at the
church. After they had been there a little while, and had
gone up and down, one of them, as he was walking along, found
lying on the floor a piece of marble almost two handbreadths
long and one wide. And he quickly took it and carried it away
and began to think that he wanted to take it to his country. He
thought that he would give it to the church in his town. He
took the marble and left and went directly to the seashore. He
went on board his ship without letting anyone know about the
marble. He didn’t say one word to his companions or discuss it
at all, as later was made clear. (884-905)
ust at that time a good wind arose, stiff and steady, exactly as
they wished. They set their mast and stretched the ropes and
set the windlass, and then they pulled up the sail, raised the
anchor and departed. You will be able to hear about that ship
into which the marble was carried: while those in the other ships
were taking care of their equipment, tending to their affairs and
making ready in one way and another, ——
PLL 394
La Vie seinte Osith
E cil refunt tut autresi.
Mes kant unt le mast bien fermé,
Ancre saké et veil levé,
E les autres partut s’en vunt
Cum cil ky vent a talent unt,
Unke cele nef ne fist semblant
K’en euue fust ne tant ne quant,
Ne pur force, ne pur saver,
Ne la porrunt del liu mover.
Les mariners levent lur main,
Chescun de euz se seignie a plein,
Dient entre eus: “Avez veu?
Itel merveillie ne unkes fu!
Dunc n’avum nus le vent portant
Cum cil autre ki vunt devant,
Le governail bien ataché,
Degurdé ris, ancre saké,
E drecié mast, sigle amunt trait,
Ke deit ke nostre nef ne vait?”
uis comandent les compaignons
K’il augent tut a [a]virons
De totes parz pur asaer
Si rien lur vausist lur nager.
Enteims pur mut estre grevé
Ke del havene seient geté,
Les juvenceus pruz e legiers
Se peinent mut del efforcers,
E chescun de euz i met sa main,
Des avirons ferent a plein.
Mes plus semblant ne fist la nef
Ke maison fet ke (ms: le) tuche tref;
Bien la porunt conduire ariere,
Mes avant en nule manere;
Costeant veit e en belif,
Dreit come cheval ke est restif.
[Fol. 141vb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 395
those in that ship were doing likewise. But when they had set
the mast well, attached the rudder, weighed the anchor, and
raised the sail, and the others were departing like people who
had a wind to their liking, that ship never seemed as if it were
in water at all. They could not move it from the place in any
way, either by force or by skill. The sailors raised their hands.
Each one of them crossed himself many times. They said among
themselves: “Did you see that? There never was such a marvel.
Don’t we have a good wind just like the others who are sailing
away in front of us? The rudder well attached, the anchor lifted,
the mast raised, the sail pulled to the top of the mast? Shouldn’t
our ship be moving?” (906-935)
hen the crew were ordered all to go to the oars on both
sides to see if their seamanship could accomplish something.
Surely, no matter how much trouble they were having, they
should be able to leave the harbor. The youths, hardy and agile,
tried as hard as they could and each one of them took his turn.
They did plenty of rowing. But the ship did not respond at all,
any more than a house being pushed by a pole.33 They could
go backwards but by no means forwards. The ship kept going
sideways and obliquely, just like an unruly horse. ——
A house being pushed by a pole (Ke meson fet ke [ms: le] tuche tref 947). Baker reads
cuche tref (1911 494, v. 946) but subsequently agreed that tuche tref , the reading adopted
here, made better sense (Bell 51).
PLL 396
La Vie seinte Osith
Kant cil veient ke n’ad mester
Ne lur sigler ne lur nager,
Parolent en estreitement
Cum cil ki sunt mut dolent.
“Seignurs,” fet l’un, “ça entendez,
Nus sumes mal bailli assez
E cil veum tut a estrus
Ke le ire Deu vient sur nus,
Pur nos pechez bien le savum
Cest encumbrer en mer avum;
Criums merci, cher compaignons,
Pur Deu le veir e pur ses nons
Ke cil ke se savera copable,
Encumbré de peché del deable,
Ke il put sei faire confés
De penitence prendre aprés,
Ke Dampnedeu merci en ait
De ceo dunt il ad mesfait.
Pur Deu, seigniurs, ki ke ceo seit,
Ke conisant seit ore endreit,
Ke pur un sul e sun peché
Ne seum tut ci perilié;
Kar s’il n’i ad amendement
Ici demorum finablement.”
ceo ki l’unt lungement parlé
E entre sei chescun pensé
De ses mesfez e de ces pechez,
Atant s’est drescé sur piez
Ky enporta le marbre issi.
“Seigniurs,” ceo dist, “pur Deu merci,
Endreit de mei voil primes parler,
Le men mesfet ne voil celer,
Si mesfet deit estre nomé.
Ceo k’en mon quer ay recordé
Poy de chose est, mé nekedent
[Fol. 142ra]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 397
When they saw that their sailing and navigating were no use,
they discussed it intently in the way of greatly distressed people.
“Sirs,” said one, “Listen to this. We are in very bad straits here,
and we can see very clearly that the anger of God is come upon
us: we well know that it’s because of our sins that we are having
this great trouble at sea. Let us ask for mercy, dear companions,
for love of the true God and in his name, so that he who knows
himself to be guilty, encumbered with the sins of the devil, may
confess himself and take penitence afterwards, so that God may
have mercy for what he has done. For God’s love, sirs, whoever
it is, make yourself known here and now, so that we may not all
be put in such danger here for the sake of one man and his sin
alone. Because if there is no reparation, then we will be stuck
here forever.” (936-975)
fter they had spoken at length, and each one had thought
to himself about his own misdeeds, finally the one who
had taken the marble stood up. “Sirs,” he said, “may God
be merciful to me, I want to speak first. I don’t want to hide my
misdeed, if it can be called a misdeed. What I have recorded in
my heart is only a small thing, but nevertheless ——
PLL 398
La Vie seinte Osith
Dirray le vus tut erraument.
A seinte Osith estoie aléz
Ou autre compaignons asez,
En son muster u jeo entray,
Un marbre petit i trovay
Si l’enportay par aventure,
Par geu le (ms: les) fis e enveisure,
Ci l’ay porté, ici l’ay mys,
N’enquer celer ceo k’en fis.
Ore vus en ay le veir gey,
Beaus compaignuns, pur veir vous di,
Si de ceo ay vers vus mespris,
Faire en voudray tut vostre avis.”
uant l’unt oi, funt grant bruit,
A une voiz s’escrient tuit:
“A Dampnedeu graces rendum
Kant tant enquis suvaus avum.
Ore n’i ad en for returner,
Le marbre ou nus volum porter,
A seinte Osith tut dreit alum
E Deu e ly merci crium.
Rendum le marbre a son muster,
Mut covient iluc Deu prier
Ke il nus pardoint icel peché
Ke mes ne seum travaillié
Cum nus avum esté devant,
Kar ci sumes trop sujurnant.”
Si cum unt dist, issi le funt:
Issent de nef si s’en vunt;
A seinte Osith sunt dreit alé;
Kant en muster furent entré,
Sachez ne sunt unques restu,
Dekes a l’auter sunt dreit venu,
A genoilliuns iluec cuché,
Crient merci de lur peché.
[Fol. 142rb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 399
I will tell it to you right away. I went to St Osith with some other
friends. In her church where I entered I found a small piece of
marble and I happened to take it. I did it as a lark, for a joke. I
brought it here. I have it here. I don’t want to hide what I did.
Now you have the true story. Dear companions, I tell you truly,
if I have offended you in any way, I would like to do whatever
you advise.” (976-999)
hen they heard this they made a great deal of noise.
With one voice they all cried out, “We give thanks to
God that we have found this out. Now there is nothing else to do but to go back and take the marble straight to St
Osith and ask God and her for mercy. We will return the marble
to her church. We must pray there to God and ask forgiveness
for that sin so that we won’t be afflicted anymore as we were
before, for we have stayed here too long.” They did just as they
had said. They left the ship and went straight to St Osith. When
they entered the church, you may be sure they did not delay,
but went straight to the altar and knelt down there and asked
for mercy for their sin. ——
PLL 400
La Vie seinte Osith
Le marbre i unt offert e mis
E Dampnedeu sovent requis,
E seinte Osith sa chere amie,
Mes ne seient en tel baillie,
Ne travaillié ne malmené
En havene u tant unt demoré.
Communaument voé unt
Ke checun, atant cum viverunt,
Lour offrende frunt porter
A seinte Osith e presenter,
Ke Dampnedeu omnipotent
Aler lur doint sauvement.
Al pople k’il unt iluec trové
Cum lur avint unt cunté.
Pernunt congé si s’en vunt
E en lur nef puis entré sunt,
Levent sigle hastivement;
Si tost cum i feri le vent,
La nef se torne a tel randon,
Come colum devant faucon.
eu fist iluec grant vertu
E miracle tres bien seu,
Kar cil s’en vunt par cele mer
E poesté unt de sigler.
Les nefs ke peça sunt aleez
E loin en mer avant passeez,
Cil ke tant esteient ariere,
Ne sai coment n’en quele manere
Fors cum Deu le vout en maesté,
Lour compaigniuns unt ja passé;
Errent e vunt siglant (ms: siglent) a fort,
Atant vienent plus tost a port,
E les autres passent de tant
Cum ariere esteient devant.
[Fol. 142va]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 401
They placed the marble there and offered it, and repeatedly
begged God and his dear friend, St Osith, to grant that they
would no longer be under such restraint and so troubled and
ill-treated in the harbor where they had remained for so long.
They all swore that each one of them, for as long as he lived,
would have offerings brought and presented to St Osith in order
that almighty God would allow them to leave safely. They told
the people they found there what had happened to them. They
took their leave and departed. Then they boarded their ship, and
hastily raised the sail. Just as soon as the wind struck it, the ship
shot forward as swiftly as a dove before a hawk. (1000-1041)
od worked a great marvel there, a clear miracle, because
they traveled over the sea and sailed so quickly that they,
who had been so far behind, passed all their companions
in the ships which had departed some time before them and had
already sailed a far distance into the sea. I don’t know how or in
what way, other than the fact that God in his majesty wanted it,
but they passed all their companions. They traveled and sailed
so quickly that they reached port first and left the others as far
behind as they themselves had been before. ——
PLL 402
La Vie seinte Osith
1056 N’at cil, saciez, k’il n’eit oy
Coment la nef siglat issy,
Ke mut ne seit esmerveillié.
Kant enquis unt e cerché
1060 E entend[u] unt la verur,
Mercient Deu le creatur,
E seinte Osith la gloriuse,
Martir e virgine preciuse,
1064 Pur ki Deu fist si grant vertu
Ke apertement le unt veu.
utre miracle aprés orrez
De seinte Osith si, l’entendez.
Une femme contraite esteit
Vers Hereford de Wales dreit,
Ke ne poeit aveir (ms: en nule) baillie
De li mover sanz [nule] aie,
1072 Des menbres ne se poeit ayder,
Ne al lever ne al cucher;
De ses membres tutdis estoit
E[n] grant anguisse e grant desdroit.
1076 Asez ala par Engleterre,
A oreisuns les seinz requere,
Partut u ele oi aveit
Ke Dampnedeu vertu feseit;
1080 Ne puet uncore estre oie
Kar Dampnedeu ne voleit mie.
Kant alé tant aveit partut
Ke ses amis esteient mut
1084 De li porter (ms: partir) ja travaillié,
E au derein mut ennuié,
Ne saveit mes a [qui] requere
Seint ne seinte en Engleterre,
1088 U ne aient ja fet venir,
Fors seint Edmund le bon martir.
La chaitive fu mut anguissuse,
[Fol. 142vb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 403
There was no one, you may be sure, who heard how the ship sailed
there who did not marvel greatly. When they had enquired and
searched and heard the truth, they thanked God the creator and
St Osith the glorious martyr and precious virgin for whom God
did this great miracle that they had openly seen. (1042-1065)
ou will hear another miracle of St Osith if you listen.
There was a crippled woman from Wales living near
Hereford who could not move at all without help. She
could neither stand up nor lie down with her own limbs. She
had great pain and discomfort from her limbs every day. She
had traveled all over England to ask in prayer for help from
the saints in every place where she had heard that God had
worked a miracle. (She could not yet be heard because God
did not want it.) When she had gone everywhere so that her
friends were very tired of carrying her and had finally become
fed up, she did not know any saint to ask in England, male or
female, where they had not already taken her except St Edmund the good martyr. The poor wretch was in great anguish
PLL 404
La Vie seinte Osith
E de garrir mut desiruse;
1092 Tant ad prié, tant ad requis,
E ses parenz e ses amis
A grant peine granté li unt
De li porter a seint Edmund.
1096 Sa suer par non ke mut l’ama
E par terre tant la mena,
Ore a derein tut ensement
Icest labur pur li enprent,
1100 Si l’aturnast a meuz ke poeit,
Vers seint Edmund s’en vunt tut dreit.
Tant errunt petites jurnees,
Cum furent bien acustumees,
1104 Ke nequedent a chief de tur,
Le seurveillie devant le jur
Seint Michel venues i sunt
E la contraite porté unt
1108 A grant travail dekes al muster
Pur faire la iluec veillier.
Mes kant vint tut dreit al vesper
Li secrestains la fet oster,
1112 E estrussé li ad mut bien:
Suffrir ne vout pur nule rien
K’ele la nuit seit al muster,
Ne pur orer ne pur veillier;
1116 Oster la fit demaintenant
E cele en fet doil mut grant.
uant de l’eglise esteit ostee,
A ceus a dist ki l’unt portee:
“Pur Deu amur, merci vus cri,
Ne me portez loinz de ci,
Metez mei ci dehors cest us,
Lessez mei iluec, ne vus quer us!”
1124 E cil refunt tut autretel
E puis s’en vunt a lur ostel.
[Fol. 143ra]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 405
and very desirous of healing. She begged her family and friends
and pleaded so much that, with great reluctance, they finally
agreed to take her to St Edmund’s. Her sister […]34 by name who
loved her greatly and who had carried her all over the country
now finally also undertook this labor for her. She made her ready
as well as she could and they set off straight for St Edmund. They
traveled for so many of the small daily distances they were well
accustomed to that they managed finally to arrive before dawn
on the eve of St Michael’s day, and carried the crippled woman
with great effort to the church so she could keep vigil there.
But when she came in to vespers, the sacristan made her leave,
and he made it very clear to her that he did not want to allow
her to spend the night in the church, either to pray or to keep
vigil. He had her removed at once and she was extremely upset
about it. (1066-1117)
hen she was removed from the church she said to
those who had carried her, “For the love of God, I
beg you, don’t take me away from here. Put me here
outside this door. Leave me here, I don’t ask you for anything
else.” And they did exactly that and then they went to their inn.
Her sister […] by name (Sa suer par non 1096): although the line is metrically complete,
it is possible that the sister’s name has been in some way omitted (unless the phrase
‘par non’ has here a purely asseverative or intensifying function: other examples of
the phrase in the poem—at lines 745, 1237, and 1323—are not conclusive).
PLL 406
La Vie seinte Osith
Tute la nuit iluec remaint
La contraite ke mut se pleint,
[E] crie Dampnedeu merci
E seint Edmund tut autresi,
Ke puisse aver amendement
De mal ke la tient forment.
A meuz ke sout vers Deu orat,
Tute la nuit iluec veilliat,
E pres de l’us se est ajustee.
Tut dreit cum vint en l’ajurnee
La cheitive ke tant i crie
Un petitet se est endormie.
De hors cel us u ele jut
Un hom [en] blanc li aparut:
“Diva!” ceo dit, “Ki es tu ci
Ke tute nuit me cries si?
Ke demandez, ke vus aveir?”
E cele li dit: “Sire (ms: Sere), pur veir,
A Dampnedeu vinc (ms: vint) ici
A seint Edmund tut autresi,
Ke jeo requer pur son non
Ke il m’envoie guarison.
Mut ay par Engletere erré
E[n] oreisuns pur ma sancté,
Mes ne oi pas dekes a cest jur,
Ci sui venue a chief de tur.”
Il li respunt demeintenant:
“Uncore t’estuet aler avant;
Kar Deu n’ad pas purveu issi
Ke guarisun eies ici (ms: issi ici).
A seinte Osith tei estuet aller,
Iluec veillier, iluec orer,
Kar Dampnedeu t’ad destiné
En icel liu aver sancté.”
[Fol. 143rb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 407
All night the crippled woman remained there, lamenting and
begging God’s mercy, and also St Edmund’s, so that she could be
cured from the illness that gripped her so strongly. She prayed
to God as much as she was able. All night she watched there, and
kept close to the door. Just as the day came, the poor thing, who
had cried so much, fell asleep for a little while. (1118-1137)
Outside the door where she was lying a man in white appeared. “Now then,” he said, “who are you, crying all night to
me here? What do you ask for?”
She said to him:
“Sir, in truth I came here to seek God and St Edmund and
also to request in his name that he send me a cure. I have journeyed all over England to pray for my health, but up to this day
on which I have at last come here, he hasn’t yet heard me.”
He responded to her immediately:
“You must go still farther because God has not ordained for
you to be healed here. You must go to St Osith and watch and pray
there, because God has destined you to be cured in that place.”
PLL 408
La Vie seinte Osith
yre, merci,” fet la contraite,
“Icest respons trop mei desheite,
Kar cher sire, ceo sachiez bien,
De seinte Osith ne say jeo rien,
Ne sai u est ne en quele terre,
Seinte Osith ne say u quere,
Unkes mes de li n’oy parler,
E si resui lasse de errer
E cil ke tant porté m’unt
De mei porter ennuié sunt.
Avant de ci, bien sai en fin,
Voie ne sevent ne chemin.”
Cil li respont: “Si demandez
A gent ke ci demain verrez,
Aucun troverez en cest entree
Ke vus enseignera la veiee;
Iluec guarrez cum vus ay dit
Puis en alez sanz respit.”
E cele li dist: “Sire, merci,
Ki estes vus que parlez ci?”
E il respunt mut humblement:
“Seint Edmund me noment la gent.”
a contraite mut en pensa,
Puis l’endemain quant gent trova
Ke esteient a cel us entrant,
Si lur demande demeintenant
Ver seinte Osith la dreite veie,
Ke pur Deu seit asenseie;
Tant ad enquis e tant demandé,
Le dreit chemin li unt mustré.
Tant ad parlé a ses amys
Ke il ja sunt en chemin mys;
Vers seinte Osith la funt porter,
Uit jurs i mistrent a l’aler.
[Fol. 143va]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 409
ir, thanks,” said the crippled woman, “This answer greatly
discourages me, for, dear sir, you may know that I have
never heard of St Osith nor do I know anything about
her. I don’t know where she is, nor in what country, nor do I
know where to seek St Osith. I have never heard of her and I am
so tired of traveling and those who have carried me all over are
tired of carrying me. And anyway I am certain that they don’t
know any way or road there from here.”
He answered:
“If you ask the people you see here tomorrow, you will find
someone at this entrance who will teach you the way. There you
will be healed, as I told you. So go there without delay.”
And she said:
“Sir, thank you. Who are you who speak here?”
And he replied very meekly,
“The people call me St Edmund.” (1139-1181)
he crippled woman thought about it a lot. Then the next day
when she found some people coming in at that entrance,
she immediately asked them about the way to St Osith and
that for God’s sake they would teach it to her. She begged so
much that they showed her the right way. She talked so much
to her friends that they set out immediately; they carried her to
St Osith. It took them eight days35 to get there, ——
Eight days (uit jurs 1193): Baker’s emendation to vint is unnecessary: eight days is
in any case a more probable time for this journey of some forty miles (Bell 52).
PLL 410
E travaillient se a merveillie,
Venue i sunt dreit la veillie
De seinte Osith kant est la feire.
Funt la contreite al muster trere,
Dreit a hore porter la funt
Kant li chanoines a vespres sunt;
A ceo ke esteient haut chantant
Cil vierent ci demaintenant
Ke la cheitive unt portee
E einz al muster avalee.
Puis vunt a l’us del chancel,
Acenent les seigniurs mut bel
Ke il unt plus pres de l’us trové;
Requis l’unt pur l’amur Dé
Ke la contraite ke unt porteie
A seinte Osith si longe veie,
Ke a sa fertre l’osent porter
Ke tote nuit en puisse orer;
Ele est a seinte Osith par non
Venue par avision.
ant unt requis, tant unt parlé
Ke li seigniur l’unt granté;
La contraite est remuee
E a la fertre amunt portee.
Sa suer ke l’ad portee tant
En haut se crie maintenant:
“Ma dame seinte Osith, merci
De ma suer ke vus porte ci,
Pur ki me sui tant travaillie[e]
E sufferte ay mainte hachie[e];
Porte[e] l’ai e sus e jus,
Tant sui lasse ne puis plus,
Ore la vus ay ci fet porter,
Avant de ci ne say aler;
Si ici ne puet estre amendee
La Vie seinte Osith
[Fol. 143vb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 411
and they labored so marvellously hard that they arrived just on
the eve of St Osith’s feast when there is a fair.36 They took the
crippled woman to the church, carrying her there at the very
hour that the canons were at vespers. Just when they were singing
loudly, those who had brought the crippled woman came there
and, having put her down in the church, went to the door of
the chancel and nodded very politely to the canons37 whom they
found closest to the door. They asked them in God’s name to
allow them to bring in to St Osith’s shrine the crippled woman
that they had carried for such a long way to St Osith, so that
she could pray to her all night. She had come to seek St Osith
by name because of a vision. (1182-1213)
hey talked so much and asked so many times that the
canons granted their request. The crippled woman was
brought to the shrine. Her sister who had carried her for
so long now cried out loud, “My lady St Osith, have mercy on my
sister that I bring to you here and for whom I have labored so
much and suffered so many torments. I have carried her up and
down until I am so weary that I can’t go on. Now I have brought
her to you. I can’t go any farther. If she can’t be healed here
The eve of St Osith’s feast … a fair (la veillie … De seinte Osith … la feire 1196): Osith’s
principal feast day is 7th October, its vigil October 6th.
The canons (les seigniurs 1205): the lords of the church, i.e. the canons.
PLL 412
Ja n’iert pur mei avant portee.”
Sa suer l’ad iluec lessee
Devant la fiertre dreit cuchee.
E cele remaint la nuit issi
E Dampnedeu crie merci,
E seinte Osith par non,
Ke li tramette garison.
uis unt a matines soné,
Li chanoines sunt assemblé.
Lur matines vunt començant
E mut a trait les vunt chantant
Cum a tele feste estoit raisun.
Kant vint a la sime lesçun
La contraite geta un cri,
E pleint e gient e plure si
K’enui estoit escuter.
Um la comanda assez cesser
Ke ne desturbast le servise,
Mes ele ne pout en nule guise
Al comandement garde prendre,
Kar ailliurs aveit mut a entendre,
Ne put sun cri amesurer.
Le sime respons vunt chanter,
Regnum mundi, li ordiné:
Tut dreit cum sunt en vers entré,
La contreite s’escrie tant,
Les nerfs li vunt tut crussant,
Deu reclaime omnipotent
E seinte Osith tut ensement.
Kant longes estoit travaillie[e],
Sur piez se est a dreit drescie[e]
E ver le auter veit tut dreit
E loe Deu a grant espleit
E seinte Osith sa chere amie
Par ki sa preiere est oie.
La Vie seinte Osith
[Fol. 144ra]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 413
she will never be taken anywhere else by me.” (1214-1229)
And her sister left her there, placed directly before the shrine,
and she remained there all night. She begged God for mercy
and cried to St Osith by name that she would cure her.
fter matins had rung, the canons assembled. They began
their matins and sang very loudly as was appropriate on
such a feast. When they came to the sixth lesson, the
crippled woman called out and wept and trembled and cried so
that it was wearisome to hear her. They ordered her to stop so
as not to disrupt the service but she could not in any way heed
the command because she was listening to something else. She
could not restrain her cry. They were singing the sixth response,
the priests were chanting Regnum mundi.38 Just as they began the
verse, the crippled woman cried so much that she was shattering all their nerves. She called out to God and St Osith alike.
When she had been afflicted like this for quite some time, she
suddenly stood on her feet and walked straight to the altar. She
praised God loudly and St Osith, her good friend, by whom her
prayer had been heard. ——
Regnum mundi (1252): for a reconstruction of possible liturgies at Chich, see Bethell
1970a, 95-96.
PLL 414
La Vie seinte Osith
1264 A chanoines cuntat e dit
La grant vertu ke Deu li fit;
Tut par ordre lur ad cunté
Coment par terre aveit erré,
1268 Coment aveit ailliurs failli,
Com Deu l’ad drescie[e] ci.
ant li chanoine e li seigniur
Entendu unt bien la verrur,
Tut loent Deu omnipotent
E comencent mut hautement
Te Deum laudamus; partut
Par cel muster demandent mut
1276 Quele noise seit ke lamunt funt.
Tut a un frus curru i sunt,
Deu comencent mut a loer
E funt les seins partut soner.
1280 Kant la contreite bien entent
Ke guarie est finement
E mes ne sent de ses dolurs,
Venue est devant les seigniurs
1284 E si lur dit: “Seigniurs merci,
Dampnedeu m’ad guarrie ci
E seinte Osith la vostre avoee,
La amie Deu verraie esprovee.
1288 Mut aim cest liu e mut l’ai cher
U Deu m’ad si fet adrecer.
Si pur Deu me voilliez tenir,
Ja nul jur ne voudrai partir,
1292 En icest liu finablement
A Deu e a seinte Osith me rent.”
E li seigniur pur l’amur Dé(ms eras.:u)
Ke ele remaine unt granté.
[Fol. 144rb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 415
She told the canons about the great miracle that God had worked.
She recounted the story from beginning to end, how she had
journeyed all over the country, how she had always failed, how
God had directed her there. (1230-1269)
hen the canons and lords had heard the truth, they all
praised God and began very loudly to sing “Te Deum
laudamus” everywhere. In the church the people were
all asking what the noise was that so many were making. They all
ran there together in a crowd and began to praise God and ring
the bells when they heard how the crippled woman had finally
been cured39 and didn’t feel any of her pains at all. She came
before the canons and said to them, “Lords, I thank you. God
has cured me here and St Osith, your patroness, God’s true and
proven friend. I very much love and hold dear this place where
God directed me to go. If, for God’s love, you want to keep me,
I will never ever want to leave, but will stay in this place forever.
I give myself to God and to St Osith.” And the canons, for love
of God, agreed that she should remain. (1270-1295)
The Te Deum …. finally been cured (Te Deum …. Guarie est finement 1274-1281):
singing the Te Deum and ringing bells is a standard response to an accepted shrine
cure. For further accounts see Finucane 1995, ch. 5.
PLL 416
La Vie seinte Osith
ele est remise e mut se peine
Trestuz les jurs de la semeine,
A plus ke puet travaillier
Entur l’uveraine del mustier.
Penible est en mude manere,
Nomeement de trere piere,
E l’el k’ele puet a cele eglise,
Longes remaint en cel servise.
Mes deables est mut enginius,
E de tut biens trop envius,
Kant Deu a fet ses granz vertuz,
E ses miracles bien veuz,
Pur seinte Eglise enluminer
E ses amis reconforter.
Peise deable estrangement
E se efforce peniblement
D’esteindre ceo pur verité
Ke Deu ad si enluminé.
Dieble n’ad unkes envie
Ne de pechié ne de folie,
De mesfet ne de traisun
N’ad envie, si de bien nun.
La vertu ke est par Deu venue
Mut vot turner en fanfelue,
Pur fere mescrere la gent
E ci si fest tut ensement.
Un lur vassal de la maisun,
Godwine l’esquieler par nun,
Tant ad forment dieble enticé,
Empeint a fere malveisté,
Ke a la femme s’est ajusté;
Tant ad requis, tant parlé
Ke il sunt tut a un voleir
De fere la folur pur veir;
Kar nature est, bien le savez,
[Fol. 144va]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 417
he stayed and exerted herself every day of the week as much
as she could to work for the needs of the church. She was
attentive in all ways and especially in dragging stones and
whatever else she could do for the church. She long remained
in that service. (1296-1303)
But the devil is very tricky and too envious of all good, especially when God has worked his great miracles and his clearly
seen marvels to enlighten holy church and comfort his friends.
It disturbed the devil and he tried his best to extinguish that
which God had truly made so illustrious. The devil has no envy
of sin or folly, misdeeds or treason; he has no envy except of
what is good. He wants to turn the virtue that comes from God
to folly in order to make people believe wrongly, and here he
did the same thing. One of the vassals of the house, Godwin
was the scullion’s name, was so strongly enticed by the devil and
tempted to do dishonest acts that he approached the woman. He
begged and argued so much that they came to one will between
them, to do folly in truth. For it is natural, as you well know,
PLL 418
Ke femme est frele chose assez:
1332 Tost ad le quer asis en glu,
Tost ad un mal conseil cru,
Tost ad lessié dreite veie,
Tost est en la folur entreie,
1336 Tost ad lessé bien e honur,
Tost se prent a la folur.
Ceste tut ensement le fist,
Lessa le bien e le mal prist.
1340 A lur folie unt liu trové
La nuit quant furent asemblé
Eu lit trestut primerement
E li fous out fet sun talent.
1344 Seinte Osith pas ne vot suffrir
Cest overaine endormir,
Ne voleit pas pur verité
Iceo mesfet estre celé;
1348 L’un pié de la cheitive prent,
Sur l’autre dreit en croiz l’estent,
Si forment l’ad iloukes mis,
Cuché e joint e ferm asis,
1352 Ne puet de luec plus estre ostez
Ke s’il de clous i fust fermez.
ant la chaitive iceo entent,
Plure des oilz e gient forment,
E grant dolur comence a faire,
Ne puet l’un pié de l’autre trere.
Li pautener quant l’entendi,
Mut s’esmaie tut autresi,
1360 E par matin est tost levé
E as seigniurs tut dreit alé,
As piez lur chiet si lur ad dit:
“Seigniurs, entendez un petit,
1364 Pur nient le vus irrai celant,
Assez le saverez en avant,
La Vie seinte Osith
[Fol. 144vb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 419
that woman is a frail enough thing. Too quickly her heart is ensnared, too quickly she has believed wicked advice, too quickly
left the right way, too quickly entered into folly, too quickly
abandoned honor and good, too quickly she gives way to lust.
This woman did exactly this. She abandoned the good and took
up the bad. They found a place for their wantonness. That night
when they were first in bed together and the rogue had done his
will, St Osith did not wish to allow this deed to be overlooked
and she certainly did not want this misbehavior to be hidden.
She placed one foot of the miserable woman across the other
one in a cross. So firmly did she place it there, join and solidly
set it, that it could no more be removed from there than if it
had been held by nails. (1304-1353)
hen the wretched woman understood this, she wept
and trembled and began to make a great lament. She
could not take one foot away from the other. When the
scoundrel saw that, he was very dismayed, and in the morning
he got up early and went straight to the canons and fell at their
feet and said: “Lords, listen a little, there will be no point in
my hiding this from you: you will soon know it clearly enough.
PLL 420
Meuz le vus voil dire en secrei
Ke autre le vus die de mei;
Tut ay en tele manere overé,
Contre raisun e contre Dé,
E avenu est tut issi,
Pur Deu amur, seigniurs merci;
Trestut issi sui contenu
Vers Dampnedeu e encorru.”
E li seigniurs demeintenant
La verité vunt enquerant,
L’aventure ke est avenue
Trestut issi est reconue,
A rien ne muntast le celer,
Semblant n’i veient demander.
La cheitive ne puet pur veir
Del lit pur nule rien moveir,
Les piez li sunt si transversé
Cum s’il fuissent des clous fermé.
es seigniurs en sunt anguissus
Sur tute rien e dolerus.
Al muster vunt erraument,
Requerent Deu communaument
E seinte Osith lur dame chiere,
Ke ele ne suffre en nule manere
Ke sa ancele seit si baillie,
Ne al siecle si forment hunie.
Requis unt ententivement
Mes tut iceo ne lur est nient.
Kar ne amende en nule manere,
Pur oreison ne pur priere;
Contreite i vint premerement
E contreite reest ensement.
La Vie seinte Osith
[Fol. 145ra]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 421
I would rather tell it to you in private myself than have others
tell it to you about me. I have acted completely against reason
and against God, and so all this has come about. For the love of
God, have mercy, lords. Here is the whole story of how I have
behaved and acted towards God.” And the canons immediately
enquired about the truth. The adventure which took place was
completely known. It did no good to hide it. They made no more
pretence. The wretched woman could not fail to see that she
could by no means move from her bed. Her feet were crossed
as if they had been nailed together. (1354-1383)
he canons were in great anxiety about all this and very sad.
They all went quickly to the church, all of them together
asking God and St Osith their dear lady that she not allow
her handmaiden to be so stricken and shamed before all the
world. They asked insistently, but all was for nothing because
there was no remedy at all, either by prayer or petition. She
came there paralyzed in the first place and thus paralyzed she
remained. (1384-1397)
PLL 422
La Vie seinte Osith
ut lungement remaint issi,
Tote contreite cume vus di,
Dekes le pauteniers morut
Ke en tele manere la deçut.
Deu fist iluec mut grant vertu,
Miracle apert e bie[n] veu,
Le jur ke il fu deviez
E par la mort del siecle alez:
La nuit aprés erraument
Vint seinte Osith verrayment
E la chaitive deliat.
De tut en tut la deliverat,
Les piez li ad desseelez,
E quitement desencumbrez.
E cele est par matin levee
E al muster tut dreit alee
E loe Deu omnipotent
E seinte Osith tut ensement.
Tut dis remaint en la maisun
E sert ou grant devotiun.
ssez avum oy sovent
Par reprover dire la gent
Ke d’estriver encontre aguilion
N’avient a nuli si mal non.
Prendre en poum example assez
De un miracle ke ici orrez
Ke Deu pur seinte Osith mustra;
Ki garde en prent, bor le verra,
Kar bel se repent de sa folie
Ke par autre se chastie,
E cil d’assez trop tart se repent
Sur ky le flael Deu decent;
Kar Dampnedeus est mut suffrant,
E lungement vait deportant,
Mes puis quant il fert au derein
[Fol. 145rb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 423
he remained in that state a very long time, all immobile as I
tell you, until the scoundrel who had so deceived her died.
God then worked a very great miracle, a marvel openly and
clearly seen. On the night of the day he died and left this world,
St Osith came immediately and loosed the wretched woman.
She completely liberated her, unlocking her feet and wholly
freeing her. And in the morning the woman got up and went
straight to the church and praised God and likewise St Osith.
She remained in the house always and served with great devotion. (1398-1417)
e have often heard people say as a proverb that to
struggle against the goad accomplishes nothing except
misfortune. We can take example from a miracle that
God revealed for St Osith that you will now hear. Whoever takes
warning from it will prosper. For he who can learn from others,
well repents his folly. And he on whom the punishment of God
has already fallen repents much too late. For God is very longsuffering and is tolerant for a long time, but when he finally
strikes at last, you can be sure that he has a very hard hand.
PLL 424
La Vie seinte Osith
Sachez ke il ad mut dure mein;
[Fol. 145va]
E il refist tut autresi,
Seigniurs, cum vus orrez ci.
e le eveske Ricard essample dirum
De ceo dunt vus tuché avum.
Le tiers a Lundres sé aveit
Puis cil ke l’abbeie de Chic fundeit,
E a seinte Osith chanoines mist,
Teres e rentes asét i conquist.
A cist Ricard le ben ne plout
Ke son ancestre a liu fet out.
Un jur avint ke il fist mander
Ses menestraus e assembler
Ke soleient ses plais tenir,
E danz Williame avant venir,
Son seneschal i fist par non,
De Wokindone aveit surnon,
E en ki se fieit mut enfin
Ou un Nichole e Rad’ Patin.
A Clakintone (ms: dakintone)comanda aler
De luec oveskaus pur veer
Ke a Chic deusent poseer,
E a son eus tut apruer.
The Life of St Osith
PLL 425
And this is just what he did, lords, as you will now hear. (1418-1435)
e will tell a story for you about Bishop Richard concerning what we have touched on. He was the third bishop
of London40 after the one who had founded the abbey at
Chich, placing canons there for St Osith, and acquiring a great deal
of land and rents. To this Richard, the good that his predecessor
had done there was not pleasing. One day it happened that he had
his servants who usually carried out his law suits summoned and
assembled, and Sir William came forward, his seneschal, whom
he called by name, and whose last name was de Wordekind, and
in whom he trusted greatly, together with one Nicholas and with
Randalf Patin.41 He ordered episcopal visitors to go to Clacton42
to see to it that the canons should not possess anything at Chich
but should turn over everything to his usage.
The third bishop of London (Le tieres a Lundres 1438): although the most obvious
assumption here is that Bishop Richard Belmeis II, Bishop of London 1152-1162 is
meant and that the predecessor referred to is Richard Belmeis I (Bishop of London
1109-1127 and the founder, in 1121, of Chich as a priory of canons regular), the
miracle story which the poem precedes to tell is historically attached to Richard I and
‘corroborated at every point by charter evidence’ (Bethell 1970b, 303). Zatta considers
the possibility that the poem has confused Bishops Richard Belmeis I and II (a ready
source of confusion is the fact that Richard II, like Richard I, was perceived as a predator of Chich properties, see Bethell 1970b, 304), but argues that the poem splits the
historical Richard Belmeis I into two persons, a ‘good’ Richard who founds the priory of
canons regular at Chich and a ‘bad’ Richard punished for expropriating its lands (pp.
333-34 above). The term ‘ancestre’ in line 1446, here translated as ‘predecessor,’ can
also mean ‘[biological] ancestor’ and arguably could apply to Richard Belmeis II, but
the replacement of the priests of Osith’s shrine by ‘chanoines’ (line 1440) presumably
applies only to Richard Belmeis I’s foundation, not to earlier translations of Osith by
his eleventh-century predecessors (for which see Bethell 1970b, 301-302). The matter
is complex and hard to resolve satisfactorily, though the thematics of Zatta’s reading
remain illuminating regardless of whether bishops have been confused or generalized
in the Anglo-Norman poem. For an argument that the Belmeis dynasty were promoters
of the regular monastic life rather than secularists, see Whatley 31-35.
William of Ockendon and Ranulfus Patin are recorded respectively as Richard Belmeis’s
steward and clerk (Bethell, 1970b, 303). At line 1450, the manuscript reads “Rad’ Patin”:
this abbreviation is commonly used for Randulfus.
It was from the episcopal estate of Clacton that Chich had been founded as a priory:
the bishop of London held episcopal court there (Bethell 1970b). The misreading
PLL 426
La Vie seinte Osith
1456 E cil s’en vunt (ms: vint) a grant espleit,
A Clakintone vienent tut dreit,
Iluec tienent a fort estur
Les plez le eveske lur seigniur.
n icel tens ke cil veneient,
A Chic chanoines mis esteient
Ke Deu serveient humblement
E seinte Osith tut ensement.
1464 De terre aveient environ
Dunt pussunt vivre a fuison,
Estre l’aport de lur autel
[Fol. 145vb]
Ke il aveient quei d’un quei de el.
1468 Deu serveient en leauté
E furent de grant charité.
Le seneschal a Clakintone (ms: dakintone) vint,
Les pleiz l’eveske forment tint;
1472 D’iluec purveit queus enverreit
A Chich kar ces fors mettreit
Ki par les chanoines mis est[e]ient;
Ouveskeseus mettreit ke dureient
1476 A li acuntes; l’esveske out voil
Kanoines oster de cel soil;
Ne voleient en nule manere
Oir requeste ne preiere,
1480 N’entains suffrir hum parler,
Ne terme ne respit doner;
Mes si cum lur est comandé
Issi en ad del tut overé.
uant les chanoines l’unt entendu,
Mut sunt dolent e irascu.
A Deu s’en vunt pleindre erranment,
E a lur dame tut ensement,
1488 Seinte Osith, ke unt serv[i]e tant,
Ke del surfet seit eus vengant.
The Life of St Osith
PLL 427
And they went with great haste and came immediately to Clacton. There, amidst great strife, they conducted the suits of their
lord, the bishop. (1436-1459)
t the time they came, canons had been placed at Chich
who humbly served both God and St Osith. They had land
round about from which they could live in great plenty
in addition to the income from their altars which they had
some from one, some from another.43 They served God with
great loyalty and exercised great charity. The seneschal came
to Clacton and vigorously conducted the bishop’s suits there
and considered whom he should send to Chich, for he wanted
to drive out those who had been put there by the canons. He
wanted to put episcopal agents there who would be accountable
to him; the bishop intended to remove the canons from that
seat. The bishop’s men did not want on any account to hear
any request or petition or intend to allow any man to speak, or
concede any terms or give any respite. And just as they had been
commanded, so they did. (1460-1483)
hen the canons heard this, they were very troubled and
displeased. They went immediately to appeal to God and
to their lady, St Osith, whom they had served so well,
that she should avenge them for this outrage. ——
of “cl” as “d” is common, particularly in proper names.
Maurice, Bishop of London (1086-1107) had replaced the communal provisioning of the
priests of St Osith’s shrine at Chich by a prebendal system (Bethell 1970b, 301-302).
PLL 428
La Vie seinte Osith
Ke ele deust bien a lur avis
Defendre les de lur enemis.
A sa fiertre vienent errant,
L’ymage ostent tres estant,
Hors l’us l’eglise l’unt posé
Cum pur prendre son cungé.
Le fiertre covrent de une here,
Ceo signe ke de joie volent trere,
Ne volent seinte Osith plus loer,
Kar par semblant le liu n’ad cher.
Ou lermes e ou plaintes funt
Asez saver ke il au quer unt,
Sainte Osith vunt chalengant
K’en cest surfet est si suffrant.
Seinte Osith pas lunges n’endure,
Bien li sovient de sa leidengure,
Suffrir ne vout pur nule rien
Ke venge[e] ne seit mut bien,
E de celui nomeement
K’a achesun fu premerement,
Fonteine e surse e chief par non
De faire icele envasion.
Kar ceo fu le eveske Ricard:
Venu i sunt cil de sa part
Ke lur terres unt envasé
E lur serganz unt hors buté.
iracle avint ici mut grant:
Cum les chanoines vunt plainant,
L’ymage en fiertre unt envili
Cum vus avez devant oi,
Meisme le hore fu notee
Dé plus sages de la contree,
Un mal par tut le cors susprent
Ricard le eveske horriblement,
Sudain e leid, de grant baillie,
[Fol. 146ra]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 429
In their opinion, she certainly ought to defend them from their
enemies. They came quickly to her shrine, immediately picked
up her image and placed it outside the church as if she were
taking her leave.44 They covered the shrine with a cloth. That
signified that they wanted to withdraw from happiness. They
didn’t want to praise St Osith any more because it seemed that
she did not hold that place dear. With tears and weeping they
made plain what they had in their hearts, and they protested
against St Osith, who was so tolerant of this outrage. St Osith
didn’t bear it for very long. She well remembered the offence
against her. She didn’t want to endure it for anything unless she
were to be very well avenged, and especially on him who was the
original cause, the fountain and source and chief reason of this
invasion, and that was Bishop Richard. Those who came there
and who had invaded their lands and thrown their servants out
came on his behalf. (1484-1515)
great miracle occurred here. Just at the time when the canons
were complaining, and had humiliated the image on the
shrine, as you have heard before—the very hour was noted by
the wisest in the country—an illness overtook Bishop Richard horribly in all his body, sudden and hideous, an illness of great power,
As if she were taking her leave (Cum pur prendre son cungé 1495): for this and associated rituals, see Geary, 123-40. Geoffrey of Burton’s Life of Modwenna includes such a
ritual against Roger the Poitevin (hitherto believed to be unique in insular sources: see
Bartlett 1996, 33-34: text in Bartlett 2002, 192-94): the Anglo-Norman Modwenne retains
a version of monastic lamentation and clamor from Geoffrey, but does not mention the
deposition of her shrine from the altar (Baker and Bell 281, vv. 8169-8188).
PLL 430
Ke nomé est paralisie.
Ne peut ver, ne peut sentir,
[Ne peut parler, ne peut oir,]
Ne peut conustre hum pur veir,
Ne il ne se peut del liu mover;
Saillient si hum, si sergant,
Entre lur braz le vunt portant,
Plurent ou mut horible cri:
“Sire,” funt il, “pur Deu merci,
Parlez a nus, cheles k’avez,
Vus fustes sein oreinz asez!”
Asez le vunt aresonant,
Mes ne respont ne tant ne quant,
Ne saveit en quel siecle fu,
Tut l’unt pur mort iluec tenu.
Tut issi jut deske le mardi,
De ci ke vint al vendredi
Ne treit a sei ne main ne pié.
Les seens sunt mut desconseillié.
Par cele sale vunt pleinant,
En la chambre funt doel grant,
Kar al quer unt grant desconfort,
Ne sevent s’il est vif u mort.
tant este vus repairé sunt
Ke seinte Osith deseisé unt.
La novele mut esturmie
De lur seigniur unt ja oie.
Li seneschals vienent au seigniur,
K’il veient suspris de grant dolur.
Williame ke ja est repairez
De la u il fu enveiez,
“Sire,” fet il, “pur Deu merci,
Un poy ver moy entendez ci.
Si de memoire rien avez,
U nul home entendre poez,
La Vie seinte Osith
[Fol. 146rb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 431
which is named paralysis. He couldn’t see or feel, [or speak or
hear].45 He couldn’t recognize anyone in truth, nor could he
move at all. His men, his sergeants, went to him and picked him
up. They carried him in their arms, weeping with many dreadful
cries. “Lord,” they said, “for God’s sake, talk to us, tell us what is
wrong with you. You were healthy enough till now.” They continued to plead with him but he didn’t answer at all. He didn’t
know what world he was in. They all thought him as good as
dead. He remained like this from Tuesday until Friday without
being able to move hand or foot. His men were very distraught.
They went lamenting in the hall and made great sorrow in the
chamber, for they had great discomfort in their hearts. They
didn’t know if he was dead or alive. (1516-1547)
n the meantime those who had dispossessed St Osith returned.
They immediately heard the disturbing news about their
lord. The seneschals came before their lord, whom they saw
overtaken by great pain. William, who had already returned from
where he had been sent, said: “Sire, for the love of God, listen
to me a little here. If you have any memory or can understand
any man here ——
[Or speak or hear] ([Ne peut parler, ne peut oir, ] 1527): A line is missing in the
manuscript here and has been supplied by the editor.
PLL 432
1560 E raison de clerc u de lay,
Dunc entendez ke vus diray.
Beau sire cher, tres bien savez,
Vers Dampnedeu mespris avez,
1564 Vers seinte Osith nomeement
Ke nus avum si folement
Ja desaisé de sa terre.
Empris avum mut fole guerre:
1568 Quei k’en aprés seit fet de nus,
La peine chiet primes sur vus.
Kar par autre oy avum
E par nos mesmes le savum,
1572 A seinte Osith ne puet hom rien
Mesfaire, ja ceo sachez bien,
K’ele ne enprenge tel vengement
Ke bien parra finablement.
1576 E ore l’avez pur verité
Par vus mesmes eprové.
Pur Deu, tant cum vus poez,
Sovaus de quer vus repentez!
1580 Kant est issi ke n’avez mye
Force de lange ne de baillie,
De quer criez a Deu merci
E a seinte Osith tut autresi.
1584 E voez li sa terre rendre
Si ja vousist vers vus entendre,
E Dampnedeu merci crier
Pur vus de cest mal deslier.
1588 Pur Deu, sire, kar en pensez!
Bien le veum, mester avez!
Pensez de ceo ke vus ay dit,
Pur sa duçur Deus i ait.”
La Vie seinte Osith
[Fol. 146va]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 433
and the speech of clerk or layman, then listen to what I will
tell you. My fine dear lord, you know very well that you have
committed a wrong against God, and namely against St Osith
whom we have so foolishly disseised of her land.46 We have
undertaken a very foolish quarrel: whatever should become of
us afterwards, the consequences fall first on you. For we have
heard from others, and we have seen it in your own case, that
no man may commit a wrong against St Osith, as you now well
know, without her undertaking clear vengeance in the end. And
now, in truth, you have proved this on yourself. For God’s sake,
as much as you can, repent often in your heart! Since it’s the
case that you no longer have any power of speech or control of
your body, beg in your heart for God’s mercy and for that of St
Osith. And vow to give back her land if you ever want him to
listen to you, and ask God in his mercy to release you from this
illness. For God’s sake, sire, think about this! We see clearly that
you are in distress: think of what I have told you, so that God in
his mildness may help here.” (1548-1591)
Disseised of her land (desaisé de sa terre 1566): on disseisin and its counter, the assize
of novel disseisin, in the twelfth century, see Zatta, 336 above.
PLL 434
La Vie seinte Osith
ceo ke il ad parlé si,
Li eveske puis s’esperi,
K’aveit longement geu
E sanz vigur e sanz verteu.
Al seneschal k’ad si parlé
E de son bien amonesté
De la main destre vereiement
Le dei ou tut l’anel li tent,
Kar solunc ceo ke out en corage
L’anel li tent e lui degage.
E cil li tret le anel del dei
E si li dit: “Beau sire, ore vei
Ke cest gage enveer volez
A Deu, vers ki mespris avez,
A seinte Osith nomeement,
Pur li requere acordement,
E as seigniurs de son muster,
Ke dessaisé avum l’autre ier.
Ore n’i ad el (ms:eu), quant cest entent,
Jeo m’en irray tut erranment.”
i seneschal est ja muntez
E a seinte Osith tut dreit alez.
Veint a muster, fet apeller
E les seigniurs trestuz mander.
Sur l’autel ad en apert
En li[u] de gage l’anel offert,
Crie merci a tut entur
De par le eveske son seigniur
E lur terre tut quitement
A chanoines tantost rent,
E si requert tuz les assemblez
Ke le maufait seit pardonez.
Meisme l’oure qu’est venuz
[E] a seinte Osith receuz
[Fol. 146vb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 435
hen he had spoken thus, the bishop, who had lain so
long without vigor and strength, roused himself. He
held out just the finger of his right hand with the ring
to the seneschal who had spoken thus, and who had given him
good advice. He held out his ring and offered it to him because
of what he had in his heart. And the seneschal drew the ring
from his finger and said: “Good sire, now I see that you want to
send this pledge to God, whom you have offended, and namely
to St Osith, to request an understanding with her and with the
lords of her church whom we disseised the other day. Now that
I understand this, there is no alternative: I will go at once.”
he seneschal quickly mounted and went immediately to
St Osith. He came to the church and had all the canons
summoned. He offered the ring as a pledge openly on
the altar, and on behalf of the bishop, his lord, asked everyone
there for mercy. He completely and freely restored their land
to the canons, and he also requested all those assembled that
the misdeed might be pardoned. At the very same hour that he
came and was received at St Osith’s ——
PLL 436
Pur le mesfait fere adrecer
Dunt est venu tel encumbrer,
Bien unt noté, bien entendu,
E de plusurs est retenu
Ke a l’eveske demaintenant
La u esteit mort gisant
Est l’oie e la v[e]ue
E la parole ja rendue.
Meismes en point e l’ure dreit
Ke li gage offert esteit,
Gariz esteit si come si,
Mes nequedent pur veir vus di,
Unckes puis sur piez n’estoit alant,
Ne pout estre pur rien estant.
Mes hum li fist une chaere
Aturné en tele manere
Ke iluekes sist quant fut errant,
Tant cum en munde fu conversant.
Le merc tut dis bien li parut
Ke il en tel mal issi reçut;
Il puet v[e]er, il puet parler,
Mes sur piez nul pas aler.
Dekes a sa fin verraiment
Ne li estuit nul autrement.
La chaere, u fu portez
E par la terre tant menez,
Esteit si cum fu furmee,
A seint Pol de Londres portee.
Iluec remis est a tut dis,
Bien le sevent cil del pais
E cil ki iluec unt esté
Si enquis unt la verité.
La Vie seinte Osith
[Fol. 147ra]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 437
to right the wrong from which had come such a misfortune,
it was well noted and heard and maintained by many that the
bishop, where he was lying as if dead, immediately regained his
sight, his hearing, and his speech, just at the exact moment the
pledge was offered. He was cured just like that, but nevertheless I tell you truly that afterwards he could never walk or stand
on his feet. But they made him a chair fixed in such a manner
that he could sit in it to go about as long as he was living in the
world. The mark he had received in his illness was always apparent. He could see, he could speak, but he could not walk. Until
his death, truly, it could not be otherwise. The chair in which
he was carried and taken all round the land was formed to fit
him and was brought to St Paul’s in London.47 It has remained
there till this day, as those in that part of the country well know,
as do those who have been there and learned the truth in that
way. (1612-1657)
Was brought to St Paul’s in London (A seint Pol de Londres portee 1653): in the reign
of Osith’s husband Sighere, Erkenwald was consecrated bishop of the East Saxons
in London in 675. After he died (in 693) and was buried in St Paul’s London in 693,
the horse-litter (caballarium) in which the infirm bishop had been carried about was
preserved and miracles reported of it (Bede, HE iv, 6, 354).
PLL 438
La Vie seinte Osith
eigniurs, freres, pur ceo vus di,
Ke ceste example avez oi;
Ne fet a Deu pas tel juer
Cum a veisin ne cum a per.
Quant contre li pechent la gent,
Il est mut suffrant longement,
Mes tut seez de ceo seur,
Ke quant il fiert, il fiert dur!
Bien resavum la verité.
Seinte Osith ad grant pousté
Ke Dampnedeu li ad doné,
Asez veu et bien mustré,
De sey venger (ms: e) de ses enemis
Ke li mesfunt en son pais,
E pousté read ensement
De mut valer a tute gent
Ke Deu voudrunt e li servir.
Mut bien purrat trestut merir
Quanque hum frat pur li de bien,
Ne puet estre perdeu pur rien.
Ele est la sus en cel pais
U Deu ad mis ses chers amis.
Ne puet buche de hume parler,
Oreile oir, ne quer penser,
Ne oil ver en nule manere
Cum la joie est iluec pleniere
A tuz ceus qui Deu amerunt
E de bon quer le servirunt.
einte Osith nus seit en aye
Tant cum sumes en ceste vie,
Ke tant i puissum bien overer.
E de peché nos cors garder
Ke puissum au jur de la fin
Vers Deu tenir le dreit chemein,
[Fol. 147rb]
The Life of St Osith
PLL 439
ords, brothers, who have heard this example, I tell it to you
for this reason: do not play with the Lord as if he were your
equal or your neighbor. When people sin against him, he is
tolerant for a long time. But be quite sure of this, that when he
strikes, he strikes hard. We well know the truth. It has been seen
and shown abundantly that St Osith has great power given her by
God to avenge herself on her enemies who wronged her in her
country, and that she likewise has the power to be of great value
to all people who want to serve God and her. She can reward very
well whatever good people do for her; it cannot ever be wasted.
She dwells on high in that country where God has placed his
dear friends. Nor may mouth of man tell, ear hear, heart think,
or eye see in any way how full is the happiness there.
ay St Osith come with help to all those who will love God
and serve him with a good heart as long as we are in this
life, so that we may do well and so save our bodies from
sin that we may follow the straight road towards God on the
final day ——
PLL 440
La Vie seinte Osith
E meindre ou ses chers amys
Ke unt la joie de parais,
[E] vers nus doint sa majesté
Ke maint uns Deus en Trinité. Amen.
Alisandre 264, Alexander the Great
Ardene 218, the forest of Arden
Bede, seint 138, Bede
Bedewin 420, seint ~ 638, Bedwin, priest, later bishop
Cattewade 591, Cattawade, Suffolk
Chic 1439, 1454, 1461, Chich 738, 793, 1473, Chich, Essex
Clakintone (ms: dakintone) 1451, 1457, 1470, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex
Dampnedé 52, Dampnedeu 122, 126, 149, 177 etc, Dé 1369, Deu 2, 32, 33,
37, 38 etc, Deus 85, 117, 764, 1591 etc, Dieu 435
Danemarche 766, Denmark
Deable 697, 965, 1310, deables 1304, dieble 1314, 1324, the devil
Deu see Dampnedé
Donewiz 617, Dunwich, Suffolk
Eadburc 152, Eadburga, daughter of Penda of Mercia
Ecca 421, seint 638, Acca, priest, later bishop
Edfrid 223, King Alfred
Edith 222, 227, 253, 257, 261, 272, 302, 309, 313, 314, Edithz 233, sister of
King Alfred
Edmund, seint ~ 777, 1089, 1129, 1145, 1181 as place name 1095, 1101, St
Edmund of East Anglia
Engleis 132, the English, estorie des ~ 139, [Bede’s] history of the English
Engletere 70, 83, 117, 131, 1148, Engleterre 1076, 1087, England
Espaine 259, Spain
Fiz Deu 158, the son of God
Fredeyold 132, Frethuuald 378, King Fredewald of South Mercia
Godwine, l’esquieler 1323, Godwin the scullion
Gurcedin 91, Guerredin, pagan king
Hereford 1069, Hereford, Herefordshire
Hodefeld 740, Hatfield Peverel or Hatfield Broad Oak, Essex [?]
Keneburc 151, Kyneburga, daughter of Penda of Mercia
Kenelovedene 739, Kelvedon or Kelvedon Hatch, Essex [?]
Lazre 350, Lazarus
Lovaine 260, Louvain
The Life of St Osith
PLL 441
and dwell with his dear friends who have the joy of paradise; and
may he who remains one God in Trinity give us his eternal glory.
Amen. (1657-1695)
Lundres 1438, Londres 1653, London
Michel, seint 1106, St Michael the archangel, le jur de ~ 1105-06 the feast
of St Michael (29th September)
Mide, le rey 256, King Midas
Modwen 217, 221, 224, 226, 238, 243, 272, 308, 310, 320, 345, 351, 361, 377, Modwen, l’abesse 214, Modwene 232, Modwin 211, St Modwenna of Burton
Nichole 1451, Nicholas, servant of Richard Belmeis
Nunnepol [ms.: uinnepol]370, Nunpool in Arden
Osith 202, 208, 209, 227, 241, 249, 254, 261, 266, 297, 299, 303, 346, 352,
361, 364, 366, 367, 386, 399, 423, Osith, damoisele 315, 347, saint’
~ 103, seint’ ~ 118, 120, 388, 412, 434, 447, 472, 502, 520, 536, 660,
seinte ~ 77, 128, 133, 153, 183, 188, 203, 678, 725, 751, 758, 798, 806,
808, 816, 826, 841, 1024, 1062, 1067, 1196, 1212, 1220, 1234, 1257,
1262, 1286, 1293, 1344, 1388, 1407, 1415, 1463, 1488, 1498, 1502,
1504, 1549, 1564, 1572, 1583, 1606, 1667, 1686, as place name 873,
882, 988, 1006, 1016, 1031, 1156, 1163, 1165, 1186, 1192, 1209, 1440,
1613, 1625, Osyd 69, St Osith
Pende, le rey 135, le reis ~ 147, Penda, king of Mercia
Pol, seint 1653, St Paul’s, London
Poleswurthe [ms.: polesuurche] 219, Polesworth in Arden
Querendone 184, Quarrendon, Buckinghamshire
Rad’ patin 1451, Randulf [Ranulfus?] Patin, clerk of Richard Belmeis
Ricard le eveske 1436, 1442, 1512, 1523, Richard Belmeis, Bishop of London
Rome 216, Rome
Saisons 91, the Saxons
Salamon, le sage 263, King Solomon
Straneshale 220, unidentified nunnery in Arden
Syer, le rei 387, 398, 402, 413, li reis ~ 426, 487, King Sighere of the East Saxons
Ubba 771, Hubba, Danish raider
Wales 1069, Wales
Williame, de Wokindone 1447, 1554, William of Ockendon, steward of
Richard Belmeis
Witburg 414, Withborc, reine 134, Withburga, daughter of Penda of Mercia
Ynguar 771, Yngvar, Danish raider
PLL 442
La Vie seinte Osith
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PLL 443
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PLL 444
La Vie seinte Osith
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